Raucous and Heart-Wrenching: The M.F.A. Program Musical Revue

By Ken Savage and Elspeth Sweatman

This time of year, the airwaves are filled with classic songs like Bing Crosby’s rendition of “White Christmas” and Vera Lynn's rendition of “I’ll Be Seeing You.” But for Ken Savage, the director of Sing, Sing, Sing—A.C.T.’s Master of Fine Arts Program upcoming music revuethese songs from the 1930s and ’40s are more than just a reminder of the holiday season. They highlight an important shift: in popular music and in the lives of US citizens.

"The music of Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, the Andrews Sisters, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Vera Lynn, Judy Garland: it’s the beginning of really simple but sophisticated storytelling through music," says Savage. "It’s the best music out there. It’s the music I grew up on. I learned how to sing through it.

Artwork for M.F.A. Program 2016 Musical Revue  
Sing, Sing, Sing. By Sara Morales. 
"The period from 1933 to 1947 that we chose for this musical revue has a specific aesthetic sound, but the changes are remarkable. From the raucous big band and swing music of the Andrews Sisters, to the heavier pre-Golden Age musical theater tunes of Cole Porter, to the heart-wrenching jazz of Billie Holliday, these artists really got us through dark times, specifically World War II.

"We don’t think of these singers—Bing Crosby, Irving Berlin—as political singers, but they were. Crosby was the voice of World War II; his music was patriotic music. Songs like “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and “White Christmas” were songs that soldiers would sing to each other, imagining a time when they would come home safely. This music played a really important role in bringing communities together to support the troops.

"This era of music is unconsciously ingrained into everyone. Especially the second-year M.F.A. Program actors; they are old souls. When we started rehearsals, they discovered that they had heard a significant number of these songs before, but they had no idea what the words were, who sang them, or when they were written. Because of later singers like Frank Sinatra, they didn’t associate these songs with the 1930s and ’40s.

"What’s fun about this music is that it gets revived every couple of years. New twists are put on these gems. This musical revue is our opportunity to put our own twist on them."

Sing, Sing, Sing runs December 7–10 in The Garret at A.C.T.'s Geary Theater. Click here to purchase tickets through our website.

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