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REVIEW: ‘In the Mood’ with Hal Linden at Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope

By John Dwyer

“In the Mood” — is that a question or a statement? Regardless, if you are “in the mood” for inspiration and a really fun time, march over to the Bucks County Playhouse box office and buy a ticket.

This show has appeared at the Playhouse for the last several years, but I had not seen it. The difference with this version was that they were featuring Hal Linden as a guest artist, and that was enough for me to say, “Okay, let’s do this.”

Show reviews, unless there are particular circumstances to the contrary, are usually undertaken for productions with a run of a week or more. “In the Mood” had run that long previously, but I assumed the show was merely nostalgia more suitable for Branson, Missouri, than New Hope, Pennsylvania. I was wrong. There is no worse snob than someone like myself, who is from the Midwest and lived in NYC. What was I thinking?”

Good music is good music. And Patriotism is a good thing to promote which, as you go over the songs of the Thirties and Forties, you realize how proud America was during that period and how principled. Able-bodied men were all enlisting as a matter of course in a war that stood up for freedom and righteousness. And all that good music and all that “devotion to country and each other” makes you proud. And pride is something not to be diminished as the final product of an evening, when you leave the theater.

As an added bonus, you get to see the incredibly charismatic Hal Linden, who blows a mean clarinet. But more about the star power of Linden in a moment.

The show was created and produced by Bud Forrest, who is also a part of the swing band, String of Pearls, which is onstage throughout the show. He is the pianist for the group and the musical director. The show was launched in 1993, when it was selected by the World USO to be an official entertainment for the 50th commemoration of World War II. It has toured over 48 states.

For my generation, you hearken back to Bette Midler when you hear “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “Skylark.” And, then, you remember Manhattan Transfer throughout, but especially with “Tuxedo Junction.” Of course, back in the Seventies, Midler and Manhattan Transfer gave these songs a second look by then a younger generation. These were originally done thirty years prior and they are reborn again with this current great group of singers. Other songs include Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade,” Harry Warren’s “Jeepers Creepers” and “Chattanooga Choo Choo” and Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s “All the Things You Are” and “April in Paris.” It’s swing. It’s jazz. It’s comic songs. It’s dance. And it is delivered with love, passion and pizzazz by Will Nash Broyles, Kathleen Carter, MacKenzie Tank, Paige Butz and Joe Consiglio.

Paige Butz and Joe Consiglio have several high energy swing dance solos, which include the choreography for the song “Swinging on a Star,” made famous by Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. All pitch perfect, sharp and precise. Will Nash Broyles is the narrator and has several solos, including the mayhem ridden “Say That We’re Sweethearts Again.” Kathleen Carter and MacKenzie Tank are two vocalists worthy of a salute, whether on a ballad or an upbeat band melody.

Other highlights of the show are a moving tribute to veterans in the audience as they are asked to stand, as well as audience participation in singing “Hey! Ba Ba Re-Bop!” and “Beer Barrel Polka.”

The band is notable and has several instrumentals. The band includes Bud Forrest (piano), Walter White (drums), Stephen Cox (bass), John DeSalme (tenor sax), Noah Vece (alto sax), Brian Lang (alto sax), David Wisler (trumpet), Joseph Young (trumpet) and Jonathan Dowd (trombone).

Also, notable are the costumes by Linda Tomlin. She certainly creates the visual “mood” for us to get into, with a variety of vibrant red, white and blue costumes throughout and elegant tuxedos and gowns, as needed. From the malt shop to the ball room to a USO Stage Canteen, her contribution is crucial in bringing you back to an era.

And then there is Hal Linden. This man is magic onstage. He smiles and winks and schmoozes. The penultimate song of Act I is “A Benny Goodman Medley,” and the show ends with “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” both performed by Hal Linden The result is that you are captivated. You are willingly taken a prisoner by this man, who turned 88 last month. If someone came out with a cologne that had a pheromone that enhances attraction to those who have talent and smarts, I am sure the name Linden would be in contention. He is a virtuoso on the clarinet and regales you with stories about how he played for the big bands at the end of that era. Just to see him is worth the cost of the ticket.

Contrary to a Bette Davis song from the movie “Thank Your Lucky Stars” that was featured in the show, you are not “either too young or too old” to see this show A great show to take your children to, as well as your grandchildren to expose them to the music of that “Greatest Generation” and the tale, thru song and dance, of what American patriotism is all about.

The show runs through April 27, and tickets are available online.

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