By Liz Premo
Atlantic News, Thursday, July 24, 2003
HAMPTON — There's a constant buzz of activity taking place at the Performing Arts Center at Winnacunnet, during Sunday evening rehearsals for ACT ONE's Hampton Summer Theatre production of "With Love: Till I Come Marching Home."
The tech crew has been busy doing vocal checks and testing the lights, while stage hands — intent upon their task at hand — appear, disappear, and appear again from behind the heavy dark blue velvet curtains, drawn back to reveal a wooden platform. Nearby is a number of actors in military garb and 1940s-era costume, some of whom are awaiting their next cue.
"If you're in the dark, just bear with us," Director Jennifer Vento tells her cast as the lights hopscotch on and off around the theatre. Then, a few minutes later, Vento announces, "Places for the top of Act Two, please." The appointed actors gather onstage, and the curtains close.
"We're good," Vento calls out.
"You wanna go?" is the response from backstage.
"Yeah," Vento says.
The curtains open to reveal a trio of khaki-skirted, cap-and-tie-clad actresses — the Andrews Sisters — who sing, step and salute their way through a harmoniously peppy rendition of "Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy."
"Nice job!" someone yells to the three after they complete their number.
"Hello, test-one-two-three," booms another voice as an actor in a Navy "Crackerjack" uniform prepares for a scene which features a letter to "Bright Eyes" from "Albert."
So go the preparations for ACT ONE's production of "With Love: Till I Come Marching Home," written by Seacoast area playwright Michael Letch, Vento's Merging Forces Productions partner. "With Love" will be presented at the Performing Arts Center at Winnacunnet in Hampton on Wednesday through Saturday, July 23-26 and July 30 through August 2.
"Nice job" is only one way to describe the production as a whole — "well done," "thought-provoking," "meaningful," "entertaining" and "powerful" are just a few others that readily come to mind.
Originally presented at the smaller-venue Players' Ring in Portsmouth in February of this year, "With Love" is a musically historic trip back in time to the Seacoast during World War II. Not only does it feature the memorable music of the era — "Sentimental Journey," "The White Cliffs of Dover," "In the Mood" are just a few of the tunes — but it lovingly recreates stories plucked from the lives of local residents who shared their own personal World War II experiences and memories especially for the show.
Audiences will be swept away by these stories, intricately woven throughout a timeline that travels from the night before Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941 to the end of World War II. At every turn there is a moment that can generate smiles or tears, laughter or reflection, bringing forth memories shared and memories in the making.
Along with commentary offered by the "Wartime Wife" and first-hand experiences on the homefront given from a child's point of view, there's a generous helping of swing dancing ably accompanied by a couple of talented musicians on keyboard and percussion. "Rosie the Riveter" makes a strong appearance with several other dedicated "Dames for Defense," and a WAC shares about her initiation into the realities of basic training and life as it was in the "WAC Shack." There's that, and so very much more, to this fabulously moving production. And when Letch — who also portrays an infantryman in the show — dances á la Gene Kelly in a sailor uniform, it's enough to bring the house down.
In addition to Vento and Letch, those individuals who are making this show possible include Stephanie Nugent, Jeff Bowden, Katrina Shinay, Jennifer Saunders, Diane Arabian, Laurie Ewer, Melissa Moore, Todd Fernald, Jessica Bagdon, Arik Blanchard, Alex Mellett, Karl Maier, Christine Hounsell, Claire Murphy, Jim Mastro, Alison Herdrich, Kate Parker, Sarah Shanahan, Rich Rosowski, Nora Henderson, Madeline and Sam Moore, and Gina Heeks.
The list of those Seacoast area individuals whose stories play such an important part to "With Love" include Elaine "Mickey" Hussey, Alma Pasquale Locke, Edward Richardson III, Bettey Tobey, Mollie Lietman, Harry Wallace, Jan Quimby, Mary Ciotti, Warren Bean, Rosemarie Devoucoux, Martha Jones, Sally Ford, Ann Caswell, Eileen Foley and Dudley Dudley. Additional information about the show and its history can be found at www.withlovethemusical.com.
ACT ONE audiences who were unable to make it to the show during its very well-received February run — and those who did — will be treated to a big stage production that features additional storylines, authentic costuming and a 20-member cast (increased from the original 10). Formerly titled "With Love: Reflections of World War II," this excellent expanded production is one that is definitely not to be missed.
"With Love: Till I Come Marching Home" will be presented at the Performing Arts Center at Winnacunnet Wednesday through Saturday, July 23-26 and July 30 through August 2. Showtimes are Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m., with Wednesday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets range from $17-$25, and may be purchased by stopping by or calling the ACT ONE box office at 926-2281.