'Blueprint Specials' 뮤지컬
For the first time, you don’t have to be a member of the armed forces to see “Blueprint Specials,” a jaunty foray into a little-known footnote in American military history. A series of musicals intended to boost morale and entertain the troops during World War II, these forgotten shows (only four survive) have now been resurrected by the theater company Waterwell. The production — which combines elements of all of the extant shows — is being presented in association with (and on the hangar deck of) the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, as part of the Under the Radar festival.
The title derives from the fact that after all the elements of the shows had been created — songs (by Pvt. Frank Loesser, among others), choreography (by Pvt. José Limón, ditto) and book and designs — they were packaged together with instructions on how regular G.I.s could assemble and perform them. The kits were sent to companies unreached by traditional U.S.O. shows.
The new production, directed and adapted by Tom Ridgely, retains this informal, let’s-put-on-a-show air, with simple sets and a spirited cast that includes professional performers — notably the Broadway veterans Laura Osnes and Will Swenson — alongside former and current members of the military. (We only see who’s who when the servicemen and women wear their uniforms during the curtain call, while the others take their bows in mufti.)
There are only a few threads of plot, understandably enough since this version is an assemblage of elements from different shows. The opening spoofs the convoluted regulations of the military, suggesting that these shows were originally conceived back in the days of George Washington, and that it was centuries before they were finally produced. (“If I can free the slaves in one day, you can put on a show in 90 years,” Abe Lincoln grouses.)
The most sturdy through-line belongs to the one show created for the Women’s Army Corps. In this we see the goddess Pallas Athene (Ms. Osnes) complaining of boredom to Jupiter (Mr. Swenson). Looking down on the WACs heading off to training, she decides she’s ditching celestial realms to join them, much to his foot-stomping dismay, and restyles herself as Mary Brown.
The other principal plotline follows the fortunes — or rather the misfortunes — of a lowly and luckless private called Sad Sack. Played with endearing goofiness by Quinn Mattfeld, he’s the perennial loser who’s always getting the bum assignment, probably screwing it up, and trying to sleep beneath a hole in a tent during a rainstorm.
Both songs and sketches mostly spoof the trials of grunt life: being given work that has nothing to do with one’s civilian skill set, say, in Loesser’s “Classification Blues.” In one of the most charming, “Why Do They Call a Private a Private,” with music by Loesser and lyrics by Peter Lind Hayes, Pallas-alias-Mary bemoans the complete absence of anything private about being in the Army: “The Pennsylvania Station, that crossroads of the nation, has nothing on a regular Army tent.”
Ms. Osnes, with her wholesome beauty and sunshine-spreading soprano, provides much pleasure in what is essentially the central role, singing and acting with lovely sincerity and humor. Mr. Swenson disappears for much of the evening but gives a winning performance as the outraged Jupiter, who eventually decides he’s bored up above, too, and parachutes to earth in search of Mary. As a member of the military police lamenting her alienation from the rest of the troops, Emily McAleesjergins — currently on active duty and a vocalist for the West Point Band — delivers with dry wit another of the best songs by Loesser, “Poor Lonely MP.”
The book scenes, principally by Arnold M. Auerbach, who went on to write for Milton Berle and Phil Silvers, are stuffed with hoary or musty jokes. (Says one Wac, rather illogically, to another: “I hope we go to India, I’ve always wanted to meet Mahatma Dandy.”) But they fill the space between songs with sufficient good humor, as performed with winking gusto by the likable young cast.
Still, “Blueprint Specials” is not likely to maintain a foothold in the American musical-theater repertoire. Meant to appeal to soldiers at war, at a particular time, much of it has naturally dated. And while the singing and dancing (Limón’s serviceable choreography doesn’t exactly foretell his prominent future as a modern dance pioneer) are both excellent, as is the playing of the ample band under the energetic conductor Sonny Paladino, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something a bit tone-deaf in resurrecting these lost musicals at this particular juncture, although this may be merely a matter of unfortunate timing.
After the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we now have a more distressing and thorough knowledge of the stresses of the soldier’s life, and the psychological trauma that may follow. As anyone who’s been reading the newspapers knows, it’s not all wry jokes about overburdened latrines and rah-rah good cheer. Not now, and probably not then either.