WINTER PARK — “All Hands on Deck” is a flashback — a musical review with some very catchy, upbeat songs, many hauntingly romantic ones, some truly corny jokes — all wrapped up in a salute to our nation’s military, our veterans, and to the way that patriotism helps bring all of us together.
The show takes us back to the year 1942, and is based on comedian Bob Hope’s USA tour to our troops. The mood is light, geared toward making the audience feel good. It works, thanks to the consummate skills of the four performers: Todd S. Mummert, Rebecca Jo Cross, Joshua S. Roth, and Kayla Kelsay Morales. How do you resist the sublime allure of a beautiful four-piece harmony reviving “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” “By The Light of the Silvery Moon,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy” or “Deep in the Heart of Texas”? You can’t, it all wins you over too quickly.
On Friday, the Winter Park Playhouse opened its fall series of professional musicals with this patriotic production, which runs through Oct. 9. It ends, appropriately enough, with a medley of songs saluting the military and our men and women in the Armed Forces, as well as Hope’s signature song, “Thanks for the Memories,” and a stirring, emotional rendition of “America the Beautiful.” It’s truly a rousing night at the theater.
While most of the production is light fun, with a great selection of 1940s tunes (their rendition of “Pennsylvania Polka” is great fun), it’s worth keeping in mind that Hope conducted the tour — designed to boost the morale of our troops — at a time of terrible uncertainty across the nation. We were in the midst of the second World War, fighting the Nazis in Europe and Japan in the Pacific. It wasn’t at all clear where the war was going, or how many years it would take to achieve a possible victory.
Reviving “All Hands on Deck” offers a similar opportunity for audiences today, for those of us feeling anxious about the state of the economy, about the dangers posed by Islamic terrorism, about where a highly controversial presidential race is headed. The show is pure escapism — exactly what Hope wanted as well. It’s a put your troubles behind you for the night event. Relax, and be entertained.
That’s exactly what the four performers do. Expert at both singing and delivering a fine comedic quip, they can capture the romantic lure of songs like “The Man I Love,” or the nostalgic appeal of one like “Sentimental Journey.”
And while some of the old jokes might make you groan, two of the show’s best numbers are very funny takes on “South of the Border” and the anti-Nazi tune “Der Fuhrer’s Face.”
As the mc, Mummert does a particularly good job narrating the show and easing from one segment to the next, in a way that I think Hope himself would have appreciated. There are some snappy dance numbers as well, and again, it all leads up to a patriotic ending that seems sure to leave virtually the entire audience feeling a bit choked up emotionally. It’s light escapism, yes, but beautifully done by all.
The production was directed and choreographed by the Playhouse’s artistic director, Roy Alan, with the music directed by Christopher Leavy, who also plays piano and joins Ned Wilkinson on multiple instruments, Rick Richolson on bass, and Sam Forrest on percussion.
Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., with Thursdays and Saturdays matinees at 2 p.m. and select Wednesday, Friday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. A specially priced performance will be the “Third Thursday” on Sept. 29 at 7:30 p.m.
For tickets or reservations, call 407-645-0145. The Winter Park Playhouse is at 711 Orange Ave, Suite C in Winter Park.
“All Hands on Deck” is also the first Playhouse production with a sponsor. AAFMAA Wealth Management & Trust LLC, which is at 545 N. Park Ave, Suite B, joined with the Playhouse in sponsoring this production.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..