Music of WWII Era Now Playing at Surflight

By Rick Mellerup

Beach Haven’s Surflight Theatre is sticking with a winning formula.

For several years now, long before Roy Miller took over the reins as the theater’s producing artistic director, Surflight has annually featured a juke-box musical featuring the swing sounds of WWII. It makes good business sense. The shows usually feature a small cast and a “here’s a rudimentary USO stage just miles away from the front so it doesn’t have to be too intricate” set. WWII-era costumes and uniforms are still relatively easy to round up. The musicals, usually in revue form, don’t carry performance rights nearly as expensive as those of recent Broadway hits, so they are relatively inexpensive to produce.

Such musicals also have a nice tie-in with the feeling of patriotism that re-emerged in this country after Sept. 11, 2001, a nice selling point. Finally, and most importantly, the shows appeal to older Americans, the backbone of ticket sales and subscriptions not only at Surflight, but at many regional, summer stock and community theaters throughout the country.
This year’s show at Surflight, “All Hands On Deck!,” is very much in that mold. It is billed as “an authentic big band 1942 USO road show & radio broadcast.” “All Hands On Deck!” is a new show, written and arranged by Jody Madaras, who not only wrote some new, original music and lyrics to add to a slew of well-known classics, but will direct, choreograph and perform in the Surflight production.

The plot of the two-act revue, based on Bob Hope’s 1942 USO tour, is simple: It’s July 4, 1942, and a war bond drive has arrived on LBI. It’s hosted by Bob Hope-type Ted Crosley (Madaras) and features a popular new tenor, John Handley (Sean Watkins), Daisy Maxwell, a.k.a. the “Sweater Girl” (Haley Swindal – seen in Surflight’s 2010 production of “Cabaret”, and Betty Blake, known far and wide as the “Bond Bombshell” (Chelsea Lovett, who starred in “Rent” and “Grease” at Surflight earlier in the summer). Suddenly an urgent message arrives- a weather front is moving in, and if the troupe wants to get back to San Francisco to do a scheduled live radio broadcast on Armed Forces Radio, it is going to have to cut the bond drive short and get on a plane.

Crosley and CO. decide to stay and do a remote from Beach Haven. A 1942 radio show, complete with classical commercials and on-air skits and antics, is re-created, ending in a patriotic tribute.

Oh, and there’s the music, the true action of this show, sure to make older patrons wax nostalgic, to get them tapping their toes and maybe, just maybe because of the nine-piece orchestra, get them swing dancing in the aisles.

Songs such as “I’m in the Mood for Love,” a hit for Louis Armstrong in 1935 and, improbably, for Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer of Little Rascals fame the next year. And “Sentimental Journey,” by Les Brown and His Band of Renown featuring a new female vocalist, Doris Day. (The selection of many songs isn’t historically accurate- it was a hit in 1945- but, hey, artistic license is allowed.)

Songs such as “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” made famous by the Andrew Sisters, and “Thanks for the Memory.” Hope’s theme song.

Songs such as the Gershwin’s “I’ve Got a Crush on You” and “Embraceable You” along with Cole Porter’s “Don’t Fence Me In.”

There are fun songs, such as “Oh How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning,” a World War II hit by Irving Berlin, and “Der Fuehrer’s Face,” made popular by Spike Jones and His City Slickers.

There are patriotic songs such as “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “America the Beautiful.”

Glenn Miller is represented, as he should be. Miller was perhaps the nation’s best-selling recording artist from 1939-1943. On Dec. 15, 1944 he disappeared over the English Channel while flying to Paris to entertain Allied troops in that city, showing that the USO shows and the like were (and are) dangerous business. Some of the songs in this show associated with Miller include “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” and the aforementioned “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.”

There are more than 40 songs from the 1940s in “All Hands On Deck!,” so if you’re a big fan of big band music, Surflight is definitely the big place to be for the next two weeks.

“All Hands On Deck!” will be performed at the Surflight through Oct. 2. Tickets are $36 to $89 and may be purchased online at, by phone at 609-492-9477 or at the box office on the corner of Engleside and Beach avenues.

In honor of the United States military, all active duty military members who show their ID will receive one free admission to the show. Veterans and military reservists can receive a $10 discount.