It’s a pretty good sign when a 1940’s-themed musical about a singing group and their brave sacrifices during World War II is endorsed by one of the Andrew Sisters. When The Lights Go On Again, a nostalgic trip back in time to when commercials were sung live and every family planted a Victory Garden, is a fitting tribute to the songs and character of a bygone era.
In the ballroom of The Hotel Roosevelt, a quartet called The Moonlighters performs regular WNEW radio broadcasts, blending harmonies so seamless it’s nearly impossible to distinguish where one voice begins and another leaves off. After a successful audition with the Glenn Miller band, The Moonlighters are on the verge of stardom, only to have their show interrupted by the announcement that Japan has invaded Pearl Harbor.
Things get complicated when the younger male member of the group decides to enlist, turning the quartet into a trio and leaving his young love — and fellow Moonlighter — behind. The Moonlighters decide to join the USO, where eventually the lovers are reunited and a surprise double engagement ensues.
However, the story itself takes a backseat to the music, and deservedly so. Mined from such greats at Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, and Frank Loesser, the 28 songs that propel the evening along are simply glorious. Mostly forgotten gems, with a few enduring favorites mixed in, these songs present the immensely talented cast with the perfect opportunities to shine. The three-piece band headed by Doyle Newmyer (who also did the fresh arrangements) is the perfect companion.
As tight and impressive as their harmonies are, The Moonlighters really glow when the soloists take the stage. Connie Pachl injects some sass and brass into her role as elder sister of the group, and her songs, especially “They’re Either Too Young Or Too Old”, are a showcase of a luscious alto voice with spot-on comic timing. Director/writer Bill Daugherty, as The Moonlighters’ eager leader, subtly commands the stage during his solo moments, offering a sympathetic and tender shoulder to cry on during “I Came Here To Talk For Joe.” As the Joe in question, Paul Kropfl combines boy-next-door good looks with a Bing Crosby voice and a truly believable “Aw shucks” demeanor. His endearing honesty matches up well with Christina Morrell’s sweet and persevering turn as the ingénue. Morrell has a voice like honey but, thankfully, none of the saccharine personality that is typically assigned to the pretty, young sweetheart.
Since When The Lights Go On Again is produced by Max Weintraub, who himself provided radio encouragement to troops while stationed in India, and directed with such a loving and respectful touch by 1940’s aficionado Daugherty, it’s no wonder that this musically invigorating show has returned a second time from its wildly successful engagement last year to find a new toe-tapping crowd. And I promise your toes will tap.
When The Lights Go On Again
Photo by Ben Strothmann. Clockwise for top left: Bill Daugherty, Connie Pachl, Paul Kropfl & Christina Morrell