Swing in on a star and take a ‘Sentimental Journey’

By MIKE CHAIKEN
EDITIONS EDITOR
It’s been an annual tradition for 74 years. And this year’s OM Show is reaching back to the music that was popular when the show was just a young buck on the city of Bristol’s arts scene.
This year’s show, which is a fund raiser for the OM (Older Members) Association of Bristol Boys and Girls Club Family Center, is titled, “Sentimental Journey” and it showcases the music of the 1940s.  At the time, the OM Show had yet to become the central Connecticut tradition is it is now.
The show opens Friday night and continues through Saturday at St. Paul Catholic High School’s auditorium. We caught up with this year’s director Maria Salice to talk about the 2015 installment of one of the longest running variety shows in the country.
OBSERVER: First of all, the show is dubbed “Sentimental Journey.” Explain to me what this means in terms of the theme, music choice, and choreography?
MARIA SALICE: The show is going to take the audience on a “Sentimental Journey” back in time to an era when big bands and swing dance were all the rage. The show features music from an important time in our history and also honors the era of World War II – a time when the entire country was truly united behind the United States of America and its military men and women. A large part of the show this year tips a hat to the U.S.O format…the first half even features a Bob Hope character and a re-creation of his U.S.O shows that were held “somewhere in the South Pacific.” The finale is set in Times Square on Aug. 14, 1945 when victory over Japan (VJ Day) was announced. The show pays homage to that period in a way that I hope is respectful, entertaining and…sentimental.

O: Why that particular era?
M: I had a few different ideas for a show theme. I settled on the 1940s/Swing/Big Band era to keep the regression of decades theme that has been going on since Allen Stone (the previous director) started it with the ‘80s theme five years ago. I personally love the music from this era – the beautiful, simple melodies and simple yet gorgeous lyrics. I love the big band sound. When I was young, my parents always listened to Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, and other big band leaders. My dad always played records featuring great singers like Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and others. I think this is probably also why I love the classic ‘40s music and why the era appealed to me in terms of a theme. I am, selfishly, paying a little tribute to my parents. I guess that’s also why it’s a “sentimental journey.”

O: Why did you want to continue this spotlight on the decades?
M: It’s maybe a little expected from OM Show audiences and I am hoping it draws some new audience members who like that era of music as well…People I have spoken to, particularly some of the older OMs and long-time patrons, have said they are looking forward to hearing some of the 40s standards and songs from the “Great American Songbook.”

O: What do you, personally, like about the era from the point of view of directing the show?
M: The element I like best is the tight harmonies and the elegant, beautiful lyrics of the songs – especially the ballads. I also love the classic dress of the period. In my opinion, the ‘40s and ‘50s is the time when men and women really knew how to dress. Even every day attire was stylish, pretty, and well put together.

O: What do the older cast members like about the era?
M: Most of the cast members have commented that they love the choral selections. I was very pleased to see at the first rehearsal the adult cast smiling and approving of the chorus numbers – even if they weren’t familiar with the music.
They aren’t easy arrangements – but the adult cast is so professional  – they stepped up and made them sound easy. Most of the music selections are classics and familiar – and everyone I have spoken too really love the tight harmonies. The choral numbers in the show are all upbeat and fun, and they all like that. It’s made for some fun choreography.

O: What do the children seem to like about the era?
M: The youth performers in the show were the least familiar with the music. However, each group seemed to take to their songs quickly and have enjoyed learning them. The youngest group will be performing “Swinging on a Star.” The middle youth group is performing a jazzy version of “Hit that Jive Jack” complete with fedoras and cool choreography. Finally, the teen group is performing to “Beat me Daddy Eight to the Bar” and they seem to love the number because it’s fast and upbeat. And, the teens this year are so talented and experienced that they’ve been able to learn harmonies just like the adult chorus. It’s a very energetic and dynamic number. The choreography for all the groups is original and entertaining. I’d like to think they all like the rhythms and that we selected fun numbers for them. They all have looked very happy at rehearsals.

O: How did you determine song choices? What are some of your favorites you got to pick?
M: I had a long list of songs in mind when I went for my interview. I just basically picked songs and music I liked for the most part. I did some research on ‘40s music and performers of the period – and also numbers performed at Bob Hope’s U.S.O. tours or in ‘40s nightclubs. Some familiar song selections include: “I Love You for Sentimental Reasons,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got that Swing,” “Chattanooga Choo,” “Java Jive,” “I’ll Be Seeing You,” “In the Mood,” “Accentuate the Positive,” “Satin Doll,” “Sing Sing Sing,” “God Bless America,” “Route 66,” and others.

O: What other new wrinkles are being offered up for this year’s show other than the theme?
M: I had two main goals for this show. First, I wanted to involve more youth performers in the show – not necessarily just the number of youth involved – but also featuring youth performers in special numbers and including more youth performers in the historically all-adult ensemble numbers. I think we have accomplished this throughout the show. Aside from the standard all-youth group numbers, we will feature three area dance studios, a fun number featuring teen vocalists and dancers, and two adult/youth integrated numbers in the lineup. We have youth dancers participating in our big finale number. We also have a unique number featuring mothers and daughters from the cast – creating our own version of the 1940s period Andrews Sisters.
And, without giving too much away, one number in particular includes the entire cast of adults and youth performers and I hope will give the audience chills and bring tears to some eyes.
Second, I made several personal pleas to the OM members to add to the number of them participating in more than their traditional fun skit and OM group songs. I am happy to report there are more OMs participating in multiple numbers this year; even one featuring the OMs and their wives.
Another key element to the show is our homage to our military men and women. So, in keeping with this subplot we are featuring the “Armed Forces Salute” in our show lineup – and hope to have many current and retired military attending and participating from the audience in that very moving number. If you are a patriotic person, this show is for you.
A couple of other new elements in this show than in past years is an all-adult female tap number that will absolutely knock socks off, and, and an elegant ballroom dance couple from Steps in Time of Canton will add a nice touch of class to the production.
I also want audiences to know this is a live show with a great live band of professional musicians featuring piano, drums, bass guitar, synthesizer, trumpet, trombone, and woodwinds. It’s not quite a “big” band – but it will sound like one. And – what theatergoer doesn’t appreciate live music?
Even though the music may be some a lot are not familiar with – the show will be very entertaining, has something for everyone – and will make people laugh, cry and tap their toes in their seats. It’s a great way to spend a Friday or Saturday night or Saturday afternoon –with the bonus of supporting a great organization that has done and continues to do so much for the youth of our city.
O: Finally, why audiences should come out and see the show?
M: The community should come to “Sentimental Journey first and foremost to support the OM Association and the Bristol Boys and Girls Club. It’s not a bad way to spend an evening or an afternoon and they will get a great show for their money.
If you like knowing you are supporting a great cause that makes a difference – you’ll be very glad you came.
If you like to see talented youth performers – you’ll be very glad you came.
If you appreciate beautiful music and dancing– whether you know the music or not – you’ll be very glad you came.
If you are patriotic and honor our military – you’ll be very glad you came.
If you grew up listening to the music of the 40s/big band – or love the music of the period – you’ll be very glad you came.
If you want to be entertained by wonderful, amazing local talent – veteran performers you know, some performers you haven’t seen in a while, and some brand new faces – you’ll be very glad you came and you won’t be disappointed if you come to the 2015 OM Show production of Sentimental Journey.

The 74th annual OM Show, “Sentimental Journey,” will be performed at St. Paul Catholic High School on Friday, April 17 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, April 18 at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are $20 for evening performances, and $15 for the Saturday matinee ($10 children 12 and under). They will be sold at the Bristol Boys and Girls Club Family Center, 255 West St., Bristol or at oldermembers.com
Comments? Email mchaiken@BristolObserver. com.

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