A tribute to the USO

The romantic and bouncy songs of the early '40s filled the USO's purpose of lifting the spirits of GI's and inspiring people back home to work for victory in World War II — and they form the stuff of Camelot Theatre's newest musical spotlight.

The show previews Thursday, Jan. 12, opens Friday, Jan. 13, and runs through Sunday, Jan. 22, at the theater, 101 Talent Ave., Talent. Performances are set for 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays.

The United Service Organizations started 70 years ago with the attack on Pearl Harbor and are still going on, presenting musical acts, comedy and fun that take military people out of danger's way and lets them remember what they're fighting for, says director Presila Quinby.

"The USO was society's perfect response to war and provided soldiers and sailors with the inspiration to get through it," Quinby says. "It was the great answer by the human spirit about how to help those in war."

The show's writer, Peter Wickliffe, 24, an actor at Camelot in past years, says he was inspired by the records his parents listened to from the '40s.

"I also watched a lot of clips, read books and got stories from local people who knew the USO in World War II," Wickliffe says.

When Wickliffe put out the call for such stories from locals, Al Scott told him about plunking the piano at a USO in Washington State and getting everyone to join in sing-alongs — and Victor Rogers told of doing a show in Germany and bumping into actor Mickey Rooney backstage.

Such stories found their way into his script, Wickliffe says, noting his love of wartime music and how it "helped to export talk of unity and boost morale overseas."

The show has 22 wartime hits, including "You Make Me Feel So Young," "Come Rain or Come Shine," "I Remember You" and "In the Mood." Wickliffe says he loves "Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy," "The White Cliffs of Dover," "I'll Be Seeing You" and, his favorite, "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby?"

The songs of World War II, he notes, are "well-written and well-thought out, with lots of emotion."

Quinby says the songs "have made a permanent imprint in our memories because of the time, a time with a feeling of fear. It's the artistic element that pulls people out of it and pulls you away from the anxieties. They highlight what you have in common with other people, rather than the differences. Everyone around the world loved the songs."

Quinby's favorite is "Sing, Sing, Sing," a highly danceable song.

"I love to dance," she says. "I love all the Andrews Sisters songs."

Oregon Shakespeare Festival actor Shirley Patton narrates the show. Patton was very young during World War II.

The show's music is performed by the Southern Oregon Jazz Orchestra and singers Alan Berman and Dianne Strong.

Tickets cost $18 for the preview, with regular performances at $22. Reservations are available online at www.camelottheatre.org, by calling 541-535-5250 or at the box office from noon to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and one hour before performances.

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