Mayday, Mayday: Stuck Awkwardly in Between Past and Present!
Near the end of the Second World War, the US Army, in an attempt to boost morale and inspire its soldiers, created a series of mini-musical numbers to be performed by and for soldiers. With music and lyrics by Broadway-hit-songwriter Frank Loesser and choreography by modern dance-pioneer José Limón, the blueprint musicals were devised to be performed virtually anywhere and with scarce resources. In fact, the blueprints clearly outlined how G.Is could build sets with "kits" that were shipped to them, making them a true artefact to the development of the “great American musical” of the 20th century. Today, only four have survived.
With that said, Waterwell chose to recreate all four of musicals inside in the Intrepid museum of military and maritime history. While Waterwell presented the show as a restoration of these lost blueprints, the performance attempted to turn them into one big show, completely changing the original form of these performances into a whole new musical.
The integrity of Waterwell’s “revival” of these blueprints was also challenged by the fact that Broadway stars (for instance, Laura Osnes), performed side by side with veterans, making the performances jagged and uneven in the quality of singing and dancing presented on stage. The playbill stated that the performance wished to “bridge the past and the present," despite the fact that Waterwell’s staging betrayed the actual historical circumstances of the original material and its performances. The U.S army was still segregated at the time of WWII and the performers would have had real firearms in hand, no maracas, and men would likely have had to play women on stage.
The show's treatment of the future was equally troubling. Sad Sack (the show’s comic relief), alluded to IPads when showing a military publication and the staging of the whole performance included strobe lights at certain points. It was unclear if the show was supposed tobelong to the past or the future. Was it trying to honor the past or revive it? The very real implications of staging a happy-go-lucky-satirical show filled with Nationalist, sexist and racially charged content in the current political climate of this country was not addressed. It seems odd that a performance so adamant about bringing past material into the present would stage it with no thought about addressing its place the present.
Finally, while Waterwell’s decision to stage this project in the Intrepid museum was mitigated by the installation of a proscenium stage. Site-specific theatre can be a powerful invocation of the history ofa site, its social significance, and its sensorial and psychological effect on the performance. While the Intrepid is a grand, striking museum (on a ship!) with evocative ties to the subject of the blueprints, the space of the actual performance devoid as it was from the original significations of the ship or the museum and hence, did little to add to the actual experience of this show. The curt walk through the entrance of the Intrepid might have been a rich and heavy one to take (considering its involvement in warfare and lives lost). Within an hour I forgot I was sitting in a symbolic site of great import to the performance.
The conception and staging of Blueprint Specials contradicted the Waterwell Theatre company's desire to bridge past and present, military and civilian forces, as it shed less light on the fascinating circumstances under which these musicals were created than it did on what a high school production of On the Town would have looked like ten years ago.