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'Sisters' is musical memories for most

COLUMBIA -- In the darkest times of World War II, a cheery vocal group kept America's spirits up.

The good-looking sister act entertained the nation with peppy three-part harmony songs like "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" and "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy."

"Sisters of Swing: The Story of the Andrews Sisters" offers a rose-colored look at the group from their beginnings as a teen act through their movie career and recording stints with Bing Crosby and Glenn Miller.

Sierra Repertory Theatre's production at the Fallon House is wholesome, positive and sentimental -- exactly what the company's core audience wants. Saturday afternoon's sold-out performance was attended by many happy seniors who sang along to the songs.

Conceived and written by Beth Gilleland and Bob Beverage, the lightweight show is mostly a concert with a few flattering biographical tidbits interspersed.

We learn how much the girls loved each other, their parents and the troops and that they sometimes got worn out from their nonstop touring schedule. It's all more than a little worshipful, which can be a bit much for those who didn't grow up with the group's music.

But no one can deny the talent of cast members Julie Ludlum, Carrie Madsen and Jill Anderson, who skillfully recreate the group's melodic sound. Ludlum, making her return to Sierra Rep after taking a couple of years off to start a family, is a particular treat for her sweet-as-molasses voice and cheerleader personality.

While the trio shines on their upbeat numbers, they sound the best on their heartfelt ballads, including "I'll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time" and "I Can Dream Can't I."

They all move well in the flirty dance steps choreographed by director Scott Viets and look stunning in Tracy M. Ward's retro costumes.

Jonn Jorgensen offers comic relief by playing several roles, including the group's manager, radio announcers, a female barmaid and Carmen Miranda. He also has a funny bit with puppets in a Jeep.

Musical director Nolan Bonvouloir, who is only 23, does a fine job providing the piano accompaniment and mastering the boogie rhythms. Greg Parker's stripped-down set evokes the golden age of radio.

Although seniors who remember the music appreciate the show the most, younger audience members aren't immune to its charms. A 15-year-old boy who attended the production with me pronounced it the best show he had ever seen.

Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan can be reached at lmillegan@modbee.com or 578-2313.

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