Denton Community Theatre is ready for everyone from Boy Scouts to military veterans to jump, jive and wail.
This year’s installment of the summer Encore series will Lindy hop, jitterbug and sway in the moonlight in G.I. Jukebox: The 1940s Stage Door Canteen.
And why not head into the Fourth of July with the songs that sent American sons and daughters to war in the 1940s?
The cast and crew said they expect the benefit to bring a lot of older veterans to the theater.
The music of the 1940s, with powerhouse band leaders Glenn Miller and Tex Beneke, was all about fierce passion and vision. It inspired the flashy dances that defined swing as well as a romantic spirit that remains unique to American. And as Navy ships and infantry trucks hauled off fresh-faced young G.I. men to stem the tide of tyranny moving across Europe, the music of the 1940s was equal parts triumphant and celebratory.
“I’m always surprised at how in any group of men, how many of them have been in the service,” musical director Rick Buntain said after rehearsals Tuesday at the Campus Theatre.
“And women, too,” said director Theresa Buntain.
“Exactly. Women, too,” he said. “But with older men especially, it’s amazing to realize how military service has been part of their lives. Like at church around Veterans Day or Memorial Day, when they ask all the men who have been in the military to stand, it’s a big group of guys. Like almost two-thirds of the men stand up.”
The show by Rick Lewis is a musical revue tucked between scenes of four performers preparing for a United Service Organizations tour during World War II. Lewis arranged American pop standards — such as “I’ll Be Seeing You,” “This Is My Country,” “Don’t Fence Me In” and “Jukebox Saturday Night” — for four voices. As for the swinging and occasionally sentimental sound that packed 1940s dance halls, Lewis kept it very much intact.
The cast includes Denton favorite Jennifer Calfee, who makes her fifth appearance in the company’s summer fundraisers, and several newcomers to the Denton stage — Pam Leck, Dave Parsons and Denton native Bruce McKinley. Bryan Patrick, a core member of Fight Boy Theatre, takes another turn on the Campus stage as the stage manager coordinating the rehearsal and performance of the 1940s USO show.
The cast members said they knew they accepted a challenging musical assignment when each accepted the invitation to perform.
“Unless you listen to a lot of jazz in your free time, this music takes some getting used to,” said McKinley, whose father led an a cappella choir at the University of North Texas. “You have to listen. The harmonies aren’t easy. Sometimes, it’s good to stand in a semicircle and sing so you can really listen.”
Leck said the dissonant harmonies that prevailed during the age of vocal groups — like the Andrews Sisters, whose standards are in the show — can confound. Calfee agreed.
“This is going to sound counterintuitive, but sometimes, not listening is good,” she said. “There are moments when you just need to hear what you’re supposed to be singing in your head and block everyone else out.”
Theresa Buntain gave the cast some license to develop characters the audience will recognize.
“The script calls for Man 1, Man 2 and Woman 1 and Woman 2,” she said. “What’s neat is that all of them chose a grandparent’s name for their characters.”
Lewis’ script is about four former military officers who have gone on to become Hollywood royalty. They plan the USO show for outbound soldiers.
While the songs aren’t original, they are threaded through the story as emotional markers. There’s the excitement of shipping out for the first voyage, the disillusionment of being the lowest in the ranks. There are sporting riffs on the mischief that is inevitable when young men train, dine and bunk together.
The grief of being away from loved ones — whether sung from the perspective of the soldier or the sweetheart at home — comes up again and again as lyrics paint pictures of loved ones together again, gazing at the moon.
“Back then, there was no Internet, no e-mail, no Skype,” said Leck. “When you think about it, back then, when you looked up at the moon, you knew you were under the same moon as that soldier — whether they were in Belgium or Switzerland.”
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
ENCORE V: G.I. JUKEBOX
• What: A musical benefiting the nonprofit Denton Community Theatre
• When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
• Where: The Campus Theatre, 214 W. Hickory St.
• Details: Tickets cost $20. To make reservations, call 940-382-1915. Tickets for the Friday performance are nearly sold out.