History swings

Review: Greetings: An Army Musician’s Message Home

by Sean McQuaid

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It’s a long way to Tipperary (or so the old song goes), and lately it’s felt like an even longer way to Georgetown. I last visited two years ago, having travelled as little as possible in pandemic times; but I’m double-vaccinated now, so even a sickly scaredy-baby like me can’t resist the allure of that community’s iconic Kings Playhouse forever.

Like me, the Playhouse has been hindered by the pandemic; my last visit in 2019 was for At the Dog Leg Turn of the Road, a theatrical tribute to the late PEI military veteran Sgt. Lawrence Batchilder, and the first in a planned series of “Legacy Projects” designed to preserve the personal stories of veterans through story, song and theatre. Two years later, that series has finally resumed with Greetings: An Army Musician’s Message Home.

Inspired by the true story of “band boy” George Bradbury, an army musician who spent years held in a Polish POW camp during World War II, GAMMH is named after “Greetings,” a song Bradbury wrote during his imprisonment and mailed home to his family. It’s one of many vintage tunes featured in this music-centric show starring Benton Hartley, Catherine O’Brien, Marlene Handrahan, Haley Zavo and the PEI Regimental Band.

The show features golden oldies like “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “Don’t Sit Under the Appletree,” “How High the Moon,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “I’ll Be Seeing You,” “In the Mood,” “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” “Pennsylvania 6-5000,” “Sentimental Journey,” “Solid Potato Salad,” “The White Cliffs of Dover” and more; covering artists such as Bing Crosby, Glenn Miller and the Andrews Sisters. It’s largely instrumental but select songs feature singers, mostly the lively, melodious O’Brien/Handrahan/Zavo trio.

The rest of the show is a series of readings by Hartley and the trio (all four mostly working from script binders but seeming pretty familiar with their text)—recounting events of Bradbury’s life, talking about the music of the 1940s and its cultural impact, reading from POW camp newsletter The Clarion and sometimes performing in character, notably as Bradbury (Hartley) and as old-time radio personalities with period-appropriate shtick like an enjoyably cheesy Tyrone Power gag (inscrutable to most youngsters, but the show’s largely greying audience gets the joke).

Kings Playhouse Artist in Residence Handrahan doubles as the show’s writer/creator with input from Bradbury’s daughter Diane Kerwin, who shared her father’s stories with the production, as well as his titular song. That family history and the wartime backdrop add appropriate, effective notes of sentiment and somberness, but it’s also a really fun show thanks to a hit parade of grand old songs brought to infectious life by some fine singers and the adroit PEI Regimental Band (too many players to name them all, but this ex-percussionist admires the artful suspended cymbal stylings of drummer Sgt. Michael Gallant).

That musical thread woven throughout the production makes GAMMH an uncommonly warm, feel-good show for a wartime remembrance, echoing the wish expressed in Bradbury’s own lyrics: “Sunshine forever, no cloud in your sky.”

Sean McQuaid
Sean McQuaid

Mild-mannered legislative researcher by day and oddball freelance writer by night, past Buzz editor Sean McQuaid has been a contributor since the '90s and a theatre enthusiast for longer than that. He lives in Charlottetown with his wife, daughter, cat and untold thousands of comic books.