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‘USO: Coast to Coast' not a victory

To celebrate the 70th anniversary of the United Services Organizations, O'Connell and Company has cobbled together a homespun tribute to the civilian organization that has been so vital to military morale.

The rickety revue "USO Coast to Coast: From the Hollywood Canteen to the Stage Door Canteen" opened on the stage of Erie County Community College's Gleasner Hall Thursday night.

The original piece, directed and written by O'Connell and Company founder Mary Kate O'Connell, is a misty-eyed and overlong chronicle of the USO's heyday during World War II.

It features a cast of 10, whose members give tentative performances of popular songs of the day and read short passages about the services provided by the USO canteens that dotted the landscape at the height of the war.
While the show is a noble effort with every desire to honor a worthy cause, it falls far short of the mark on many accounts.

First, it draws out into two long acts what might have made a far more effective 45-minute one-act. Interludes during which cast members costumed in American flag aprons read didactic bits about the mission and accomplishments of the USO quickly become repetitive.

O'Connell's song choices – sometimes with military themes, sometimes not – reflect an all-too-scattershot attempt to cover all the nostalgic bases without paying enough attention to narrative.

The arrangements O'Connell chose of the songs themselves are often wrong for the material or the performer, for instance the one backing Ian Rowlins' weirdly operatic delivery of "That Old Black Magic."

Aside from O'Connell, her frequent collaborator Pamela Rose Mangus and the charming pianist Ron Swick, few of the performances in this show rise to the level that might merit the show's $25 ticket price.

There are some redeeming moments, such as Rowlins' and Swick's stilted reading of Abbott and Costello's "Who's On First" and Mary Moebius' warbling but charming delivery of the wartime lament "They're Either Too Young or Too Old."

But those moments are too few and far between to make it much more than a trifle with good intentions.

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"USO Coast to Coast" plays through June 17 in Gleasner Hall, Erie County Community College, 6205 Main St., Williamsville. For tickets, call 848-0800 or visit www.oconnellandcompany.org. (ŒŒ)

email: cdabkowski@buffnews.com