Florida Studio Theatre continues to have a golden touch with its Goldstein Cabaret series. Performed in its beautiful cabaret theater, this series of musical revues constantly delights, dazzles and reminds us of our rich musical heritage. Often illuminating, stimulating and thought-provoking, these musical evenings regularly spotlight a single composer - Porter, Gershwin, Weill and the upcoming Tom Lehrer; or an individual - the hugely successful "Sophie Tucker: Last Of The Red Hot Mamas." Sometimes they are a compilation of a certain style, such as country-western, blues, Shakespeare; or often, an entire era, as in the current "G.I. Jive," which relives the war years (World War I and II). With buoyancy and passion, four newcomers to the FST family, Steven Cates, Deanna Greene, Sarah Pramstaller and Danny Vaccaro perform with sass and sentiment the richly varied compositions that helped us get through the dark days. From soulful ballads, like Ivor Novello's beautiful "Keep The Home Fires Burning" and the lovely "We'll Meet Again," to the sassy insouciance of "Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby?" and "It Don't Mean A Thing If You Ain't Got That Swing," these tunes demonstrate the resilience and hope of the American people in the face of adversity. I was 8 years old when we gathered around the radio that Sunday in December to listen in shocked silence to the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. With the advent of rationing, meat, butter, sugar, gas and nylons became scarce, as the country buckled down for war. But, it was the songs that sustained us, made us laugh and cry, and reminded us of our humanity. The recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in school became a daily, moving expression of our deep patriotism. "Johnny Doughboy Found A Rose In Ireland" was my first solo in a school play, and another World War I song, George M. Cohan's "Over There" became a rousing call to arms. Irving Berlin's haunting "Let's Face The Music and Dance" illustrated our fortitude on the homefront. The country had fun with "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," on which the fabulous four did some fabulous harmonizing. Whether in solo or tandem, the singing is first-rate throughout. Vaccaro was a standout, not only vocally, but his whole body resonated with the music right down to his toes. He shifted styles with the grace and rapidity of a chameleon. He employed a gentle, lovely head voice for "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To," then turns on the power for a strikingly sung "Atom and Evil," a rousing anti-war hymn, with an interesting running bass line in the accompaniment by the always-excellent Jim Prosser. Vaccaro is joined by Cates for some delightful duos - the diggy moves on "Is You Is Or Is You Ain't," and they had some effete fun tapping out "Oh, What A Lovely War." Cates did some warm warbling on "I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire," and really came into his own with a dynamic "Comin' In On A Wing And A Prayer" backed up by a jazzy trio. Greene was a real asset in all her assignments. Her sensuality and "body English" contributed mightily to "In The Mood" and her "boopy" chirping with Cates on "Daddy" was pure dynamite! Cates and Greene also had a winning "I'll Buy That Dream" duet. Greene was joined by Pramstaller, the "girl next door" of your dreams, for a bouncy "This Is The Army Mr. Jones," while the two men did some choreographed calisthenics that proved to be great fun. Pramstaller sailed through "Rosie The Riveter" with a light and easy style and did some impressive "scat" work with Vaccaro on "Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart." Along with her colleagues, Pramstaller brought sass and stylistic excellence to "Why Don't You Do Right?" The ensemble singing throughout was exemplary, under the superb guidance of musical director Michael Sebastian and pianist Prosser. "Juke Box Saturday Night" really jumped, and "Uncle Sam Blues" hit the roof. "Let's Face The Music And Dance" had a depth and seriousness underlined by the subtle unison ending - classy. Once again director-choreographer Dennis Courtney has extended his parameters and come up with staging that is clean, fresh and imaginative. Marcella Backwith has waved her magic wand over the sets and costumes to add color and style to this sparkling production. Allen L. Mack contributes lighting that illuminates and enhances. "G.I. Jive" will give you a laugh in your heart and a lump in your throat. Go.
SARASOTA -- The love, fear and longings expressed in the music of the World War II era takes on an unexpectedly poignant and pointed tone in "G.I. Jive" at Florida Studio Theatre's Cabaret. With American soldiers fighting in Iraq, it's impossible for this energetic and charming revue to simply wallow in the warm feelings of nostalgia. The pride of the nation's victory in World War I expressed in "We Did it Before, and We Can Do It Again," may make you long for a time when good and evil seemed as simple as black and white. The stark differences are muddier today. But the show sings out with pleasant reminders of how music once brought the nation together. A strong-voiced, four-person cast featuring Steven Cates, Deanna Greene, Sarah Pramstaller and Danny Vaccaro runs through more than two dozen songs. Director and choreographer Dennis Courtney has organized the show into four segments that begin with a focus on varying views of love and romance, from the enthusiasm of "Zing Went the Strings of My Heart" to the coy demands of "Daddy" and "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby." The songs are interrupted for bulletins about Hitler's invasion of Poland and our nation's isolationist attitude until the attack on Pearl Harbor. Suddenly, the mood changes with "This is the Army, Mr. Jones" and "Keep the Home Fires Burning" as young men join the war effort. Act II begins with a takeoff on a USO show, with Vaccaro playing a Bob Hope-type comedian leading a production of songs that take a satirical look at military life, including "Oh What a Lovely War." Courtney also successfully expands the tone of a familiar song like "I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire" with a new perspective from a soldier longing to be home. The show offers a few musical discoveries, most notably the delightfully worrisome "Atom and Evil," about the potential dangers of nuclear bombs. And it gives a new life to "Comin' in on a Wing and Prayer" with a vibrant, gospel arrangement. The singers dance a bit and blend nicely in their harmonies, but you'll be hard-pressed to take your eyes off Greene, whose big personality and dynamic voice constantly demand attention. But all the singers lead you to see the world and history a little differently and with an extra musical kick.