It may be pop and electronic dance music that kids are listening to now, but for one weekend, Irving Berlin, the Andrews Sisters, and Abbott and Costello will reclaim audiences’ ears.
Reagle Music Theatre in Waltham will put on its semiannual “Remembering the ’40s” musical revue Saturday and Sunday, and never mind the dwindling numbers of the World War II veterans to whom the show is dedicated.
“It’s one of the mainstays,” said Robert Eagle, executive producer and artistic director of Reagle. The show, which started out decades ago as a dinner theater production honoring veterans of the last world war, has evolved into a beloved mainstay, drawing nostalgic audience members and their grandchildren from across the Northeast.
“That's the music I heard growing up, and I've heard people in the audience say, ‘Oh, my God, I used to hear my mother sing that all the time,’ ” Eagle said.
Indeed, the show's three sections cover a range of American music popular in the 1940s, from wartime classics to Rodgers and Hammerstein to the Rexall Radio Hour. Songs like “I'll Be Seeing You,” “God Bless America,” and comic routines like “Who's on First” bring the big-band era into the 21st century.
‘So much of it is identical, it just seemed . . . we should include all veterans.’
Perhaps the most impressive act is the World Famous Precision Dancers, a group of former Radio City Rockettes led by Sandra Philpott, who joined the famed troupe in 1951.
Philpott said that Rockettes alumnae began performing with Reagle in October 1989, and though that original group has mostly retired from dance now, Philpott continues to oversee the routines year after year.
“Now Bob hires more current Rockettes or those recently alumned,” she said. “I'm lucky enough that they're still using my choreography.”
Though it is still the same show, Eagle said, there have been changes to the production since it premiered in the original Chateau restaurant in Waltham.
This year's biggest change is that all veterans may see the show for free, an honor formerly reserved for World War II veterans. He said that the themes of separation and people leaving their regular jobs to fight for their country are real for all military personnel.
“So much of it is identical, it just seemed that maybe we should include all veterans,” he said.
“Bob has great admiration and respect for anyone who serves our country, and it just felt natural to him to honor the members of the greatest generation who served and went through unimaginable things,” said Jan Nargi, Reagle Music Theatre's publicist.
While Nargi acknowledged that the number of WWII veterans in the audience has dropped in recent years, people do return year after year, bringing their families and grandchildren to introduce them to the wonderful music of the era.
“It's the kind of music you never get tired of,” she said.
The cast is made up of volunteers, who Eagle said are “all too young to remember” the Second World War.
He said that the first time the group invited WWII veterans for free, organizers asked them to stand up and be recognized. Though it took a while to coax them out of their seats, there were “easily 100 standing,” Eagle recalled.
“The cast was literally blown away,” he said. “They had no idea how pervasive the war was.”
Eagle, a former teacher in the Waltham public schools, started the Reagle Players (named after the way he signed his name, R. Eagle, on hall passes) as a summer theater outlet for high school and college students in 1969. The company still performs and rehearses at the city high school's Robinson Theater.
To fill the theater’s seats, Nargi said, the company utilizes its mailing and e-mail lists of more than 20,000 names. It reaches out to all the veterans affairs offices in the area, as well as Hanscom Air Force Base, to let soldiers and veterans know about a show geared specifically to them. Nargi said the troupe’s huge reach often brings people from New Hampshire, New York, and New Jersey.
“Remembering the ’40s” will be performed at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, and at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Robinson Theatre, 617 Lexington St. in Waltham. Tickets may be purchased online at www.reaglemusictheatre.org, by calling 781-891-5600, or at the theater’s box office. For group rates, call 781-894-2330.