- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 30, 2003

During wartime, holidays are tinged with sadness — and hope, as President Bush’s surprise Thanksgiving visit to U.S. troops in Baghdad reminds us. This mingling of seasonal spirit and patriotism is lovingly brought to life in American Century Theater’s throat-catching revue, “If Only in My Dreams,” a salute to World War II soldiers and their loved ones back home.

Whether you’re a hawk, dove or owl, you will no doubt be moved by this show. Avoiding falsely hearty holiday cheer, “Dreams” instead recaptures the real emotions of pride, longing, fear and exhilaration felt by Americans during World War II. The eight cast members (Kathryn Fuller, Tony Gudell, Dan Herrel, Patricia Hurley, Kim-Scott Miller, Lynn Audrey Neal, David Ruffin, Anna Marie Sell) are in fine voice, handling the often wistful holiday melodies with grace and delicacy.

“White Christmas,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “You’re All I Want for Christmas” have been played to death on radio and in shopping malls, but, returned to their proper context, they regain their original power. We hear them so often, they sound like audio wallpaper. It is like hearing them for the first time, however, when we are reminded that they once captured the feelings of servicemen far from their loved ones, and of family members and friends longing for things to get back to normal.

Another delight retrieved from yesteryear is “Thanks for the Memory,” a tune that eventually became little more than a musical theme associated with Bob Hope. Here, all the verses are presented and sung with hard-won wisdom by Mr. Miller and Miss Fuller, and the result is a ditty that is actually a sophisticated inventory of a romance gone wrong.

The show has many teary moments, especially in the readings of actual letters from servicemen, many of whom did not return from battle. One lachrymose interlude finds a family at Christmas still grieving over their son, a pilot, getting shot down in the Philippines in August. The mother (Miss Fuller) receives an official package — her son’s dress blues. Absent-mindedly going through the pockets, she finds a $50 bill and a note attached to it (“For Dad’s Masonic ring”), and somehow, this unexpected gift gives a family a reason to go on.

However, “If Only in My Dreams” is not an unrelenting sob fest. The proceedings are perked up by upbeat 1940s songs — “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “I Came Here to Talk for Joe” and “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” — as well as period radio broadcasts and jingles.

Another highlight is the smoky-voiced Miss Neal singing “They’re Either Too Young or Too Old” — about the lamentable pool of available men in wartime America — with a sultry pep that makes you think of Lauren Bacall. She also does a fine rendition of “Skylark.”

The lighter numbers relieve the overall bittersweetness of “If Only in My Dreams,” but it is the somber moments that stick with you and gently remind you that “peace on earth” is so much more than a seasonal catchphrase.


WHAT: “If Only in My Dreams,” written and compiled by Jack Marshall

WHERE: American Century Theater, Theater II, Gunston Arts Center, 2700 S. Lang St., Arlington

WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesdays to Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Running in repertory with “Mister Roberts.” Through Jan. 31.

TICKETS: $18 to $26

PHONE: 703/553-8782


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