Rock ’n’ roll wasn’t the first form of American music to take over the world.
A generation earlier, big bands did the same thing, helped by World War II, which sent American servicemen and their radios to nearly every corner of the globe.
That’s the swinging, catchy and nearly always upbeat music celebrated in “In the Mood,” a musical revue that comes to Century II on Saturday.
“Basically this is all about American music – songs and lyrics and melodies that are timeless,” said Bud Forrest, the musical director and creator of the show.
“In the Mood” is in its 21st year of touring in this country and overseas. The show includes a 13-piece band, the String of Pearls Orchestra and a half dozen costumed singers and dancers.
“The goal is to give audiences the flavor of what it must have been like – the dancing, singing and looks – of what was an important time in our country,” Forrest said.
The production weaves snippets of dozens of tunes into its two sets, adding up to almost two and a half hours of music. A few songs, including “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “Tuxedo Junction” and the title track, are performed as stand-alone numbers.
The second half of the show highlights patriotic songs.
A male dancer acts as the master of ceremonies, tying things together, but for the most part the show lets the music do the talking.
Forrest is a Juilliard-trained pianist and conductor who served as pianist for the Singing Sergeants, the U.S. Air Force chorus, early in his career. “In the Mood” started as part of the official entertainment for the nation’s 50th commemoration of World War II. It has now appeared in 48 states (including Wichita once before) plus Canada, Europe, New Zealand and Australia.
Forrest said anybody who’s seen a USO show, in person or on the screen, will recognize the format. But instead of one band, the String of Pearls Orchestra is capable of sounding a lot like many of the famed outfits – from Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw to the Andrews Sisters – that defined the era.
“Each had their own style; that’s what we try to replicate,” Forrest said. “No one can be the Andrews Sisters, but we do the music they were known for.”
He called the revue a “family show for kids from 8 to 88,” and said the production also pays tribute to servicemen and women who risked or gave their lives for this country.
“There’s a whole section that’s patriotic where we honor all veterans, whether World War II’s or today’s,” he said. “It’s a community show. We tend to get a lot of support from each town we visit. We love playing across America. We just have a real snapshot of what America is.”
Even many of the songs that don’t have overtly patriotic lyrics were written with the idea of inspiring a country. That, and the nature of technology and society in that era, makes the music unique.
“It was the last time that all Americans were listening and dancing to the same kind of music – the kid from California, Kansas or New York. It was the music that reminded them of home.”
When the show does slow down for numbers like “We’ll Meet Again” and “I’ll Be Seeing You,” it’s for “songs about longing and missing,” Forrest said.
The show is hugely popular in parts of the country with lots of retirees. The current tour includes nine shows in Mesa, Ariz., alone. But do the math and you’ll see that “In the Mood,” a revue based on the music of the World War II era, couldn’t possibly depend on its original audience to survive.
“The World War II generation, sadly, we’re losing them quickly,” Forrest said.
Still, the soundtrack of their lives plays on, attracting new fans every time somebody dusts off an LP or turns on an old movie to hear.
“The baby boomers are coming, the college kids and high school kids who love swing dancing,” Forrest said.
The show can make for some powerful memories, he said.
“We have many generations coming to the show. When they all go home, the grandparents open up about what this music meant to them as teenagers. They talk about the backgrounds and history.”
If you go
‘In the Mood’
When: 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Mary Jane Teall Theater at Century II, 225 W. Douglas
Tickets: 316-303-8100 or www.wichitatix.com