← Back Published on

USO-Style Show Takes Audience on Sentimental Journey

From The Boston Herald 

The United States is mixing it up with a mustachioed sociopath overseas, our floundering economy could go belly-up at any moment and we're grappling with domestic security in an insecure world. Whether it's U-boats skulking about the Atlantic seaboard or terrorists slipping into our cities, whether it's 1944 or 2003, some worries, unfortunately, seem to spring eternal.

Luckily, more pleasant things -- like big band music -- have proven timeless as well. Thanks to For Sentimental Reasons, the big band sound of the World War II era is alive and swinging throughout New England. Fronted by Dorchester native and Quincy resident Sean Roper, For Sentimental Reasons is a performance group that re-creates a "live" USO-style radio broadcast, circa 1944, via Armed Services Radio.

Made up of young singers and actors with an abiding affection for World War II nostalgia and big band music, the group customizes location-specific performances for a variety of audiences. This weekend, Bostonians can swing to FSR's retro sound at the Regent Theatre in Arlington.

For Sentimental Reasons pays close attention to detail, especially wardrobe. It's not just the music that's led to FSR's success, according to Roper, the group's master of ceremonies. "It's like a smell, a taste or a view that brings you back to an experience. We re-create a taste of that era by mixing visuals, old [product] jingles, public service announcements and ads in with the music."

In addition to classics such as "Sentimental Journey," "Route 66" and "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," the group often dusts off lesser-known gems such as "Milkman, Keep the Bottles Quiet" and "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square."

The visuals demand great attention to detail, especially for the women, who look as though they jitterbugged out of a time machine.

"We always wear red lipstick, always have nail polish on and wear 1940s-style jewelry and dresses," said group co-founder Lisa Ricci Stearns, a Walpole resident.

"We know we've done our job if people come up to us afterwards and say, 'You took me right back to when I was a war bride, when I was working the swing shift in a factory,' or whatever they were doing at that time,'"said FSR co-founder Jenna Hashway, whose father was a World War II prisoner of war.

To strengthen the time-warp effect, FSR also unearthed several commercial jingles that it slips between songs, including those for Cyclax leg makeup and Halo shampoo, which are often the hit of the show. "People always sing along with what we think are the most obscure jingles," said Stearns.

The show's authentic, parochial flavor is provided by Hashway, who researches the regions in which the group performs. Her hard work enables Roper to make note of local landmarks and hangouts that were popular during the war.

While at the Regent, he'll undoubtedly mention the extinct Totem Pole Ballroom in Newton, Moseley's on the Charles in Dedham, the Beachcomber club in Quincy and old Arlington hangouts like Edwards' and Buttrick's ice cream shops. Because FSR is playing at the Regent, an old movie theater, he also might promote a local scrap drive by offering free admission to "Going My Way" if you bring in five pounds of junk metal.

"Celebrity" guests pop up at each show as well. Dave Harrison appears, pipe in hand, as Bing Crosby, crooning "Ac-cen-tchu-ate the Positive," and Stearns, Hashway and Lisa Feltner make a cameo as the Andrews Sisters.

Sean Roper belts out a tune.

While the group does attract a diverse audience, FSR members get their greatest kick -- and reward -- from interacting with veterans and their war brides after a show. While the performers mingled with the crowd after a summer performance on board the USS Salem at the Quincy Shipyard, one recalled a memorable brush with fame.

"A vet who outfitted the Salem pointed up to a gun turret and said he was sitting up there when the real Andrews Sisters performed on deck," said Roper. "He was amazed at how our 'Andrews Sisters' helped draw him back to that time."

For Sentimental Reasons performs at the Regent Theatre in Arlington on Saturday Feb. 15, and Sunday, February 16. Tickets: $15-30. Call 781-646-4849 or go to www.regenttheatre.com.