The Blueprint Specials were a series of musicals conceived, written and choreographed by soldiers during World War II. A “novel and very practical service for soldiers who wish to put on good GI shows for GI audiences,” these shows were commissioned by the Special Services Division of the War Department in 1944 to boost morale and keep soldiers occupied. Packaged essentially as instructional kits with easy-to-create costumes, props, and scenery, thus making them easy to execute anywhere.
Of these musicals, four survived and until now remained unseen by civilian eyes. Waterwell’s resurrection of The Blueprint Specials combines the four musicals into a nearly two-hour long mashup performed aboard former World War II aircraft carrier, The Intrepid. The performance, which had no shortage of talent and fervor, felt as if it were being stretched in a few too many directions, leaving it in a sort of no-man’s-land of unintentional ambiguity.
One rather important detail, its location, seemed to amplify this effect. Surrounded by artifacts of war and combat and ostentatious emblems of patriotism (I couldn’t help but notice a line of loungewear in the giftshop emblazoned with the words ‘I love the smell of gasoline in the morning’), the play very obviously and very intentionally took place in a war museum. While the production joyfully spoofs the drudges of military life, its casual and playful tone felt a little tone-deaf. The original plays were meant to appeal to soldiers during wartime over fifty years ago, which seemed immediately ignorant of the shift in national sentiment that has occurred since then. Certainly after the Vietnam War as well Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans are far less gung-ho about armed combat, yet the show and its setting were anything if not gung-ho.