And songs like "G.I. Jive" inspired Jean Hardie to write and direct Shippin' Out as the culminating production (Aug. 11-20) of Spokane Civic Theatre's Summer Performance Camp for teens.
"It's structured like a flashback: Two girls discover some old love letters in their grandparents' attic," Hardie says. "It takes place in a USO, and all the guys will be shipping out before the end of the week.
"It's a very ensemble piece," she continues. "All the campers will get their chance to shine. But it centers on three couples. One couple is already committed to one another, another have just been dating for a few weeks, and the third couple have just met that night."
Hardie very loosely based her revue on movies like Stage Door Canteen, in which three soldiers stop over before heading overseas "and the stars drop in and serve donuts and coffee" in cameo roles. (The 1943 film included performances by Ethel Merman, Benny Goodman and Count Basie and cameos by the likes of Ray Bolger, Helen Hayes, Tallulah Bankhead and Katherine Hepburn.)
Hardie and her design crew are aiming at authenticity: Just as at a USO of the 1940s, "we'll have a waitress and a floor show," she says. "And did you know that the Davenport Hotel lobby served as a canteen for troops who were shipping out?" The show's backdrop will reflect details of what the Davenport lobby looked like during that era.
When originating a new-but-old musical revue based on songs that were hits 60 years ago, which comes first -- the songs or the plot?
"Of course, I knew a lot of the songs going in," says Hardie. "But then as I wrote, I'd start to think, 'Oh, this song would work well there,' and so on."
A partial list of the revue's many songs includes "G.I. Jive," "Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy," "Sing, Sing, Sing," "Slap That Bass," "Strike Up the Band," "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing," and a few of what Hardie refers to as the "I'll get by" songs: "I'll Be Seeing You," "I'll Walk Alone" and "I Don't Want To Walk Without You."
The most intricate singing number will be "Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy," with two girls on each of three different harmonizing vocal parts. Hardie comments that the show is, in general, "a lot more challenging rhythmically than harmonically -- getting that swing rhythm and all that syncopation down," is difficult, she says. (Just try keeping time up with lyrics like these: "He had a boogie style that no one else could play. / He was the top man at his craft, / But then his number came up and he was gone with the draft.")
With 28 teenagers in her cast, Hardie has had a whole bunch of boogie-woogie bugle boys and girls to work with in the Performance Camp. Artistic Director Yvonne A.K. Johnson has reconfigured the Civic's educational programs under an umbrella organization known as the Spokane Civic Theatre Academy, which includes Elementary Drama and Set Making (with 100 students in grades 3-6) along with camps focusing on Musical Theater, Drama and Performance. Hardie's 28 singers and dancers qualified through auditions, paid about $300 in tuition and then started rehearsals on July 25, culminating in the six performances of Shippin' Out.
Hardie is so committed to the ensemble concept for her Performance Camp that she hesitates to name the actors who will fill the principal roles in Shippin' Out. Instead, she notes, "This is our ninth year of the camp, and we have as co-music directors two kids who have been in the camp and have now flown up into leadership roles: Cody Wymore and Henry McNulty." Furthermore, Katie-Sarah Phillips, "who was in the camp back in the first and second years, '96 and '97," is now acting as assistant choreographer.
While Hardie is choreographing Shippin' Out as well, she'll be helped by Phillips and Jeremy Trigsted. In addition, two guest choreographers will design particular numbers: Greg Pschirrer ("G.I. Jive") and Kathie Doyle-Lipe ("Sing, Sing, Sing").
The production will boast a variety of dance styles -- "a lot of jitterbugging, tap, swing dance ... and a lot of 'Truckin'' and the 'Shorty George,'" explains Hardie. Then, full of energy, she hops up out of her chair and starts waving her fingers in the air, shaking her hips, and pointing down toward her gyrating knees.
With enthusiasm like that on display, certainly Shippin' Out will appeal to elderly theatergoers who actually lived through the '40s -- but as Hardie notes, "the cast is young, and their friends will want to come, and there are the parents," so that the revue should hold some promise for all ages.
Without a seventh (adult) Main Stage production during this transitional season (the first for artistic director Johnson), Shippin' Out will be the sole offering at the Civic this summer. "We're the big thing around here this summer," says Hardie.
Shippin' Out swings into action on Thursdays-Saturdays, Aug. 11-13 and Aug. 18-20, at 7:30 pm. Tickets: $12. Spokane Civic Theater Main Stage, 1020 W. Howard St. Call 325-2507.