Arts / Reliving cheers and tears of the swinging ’40s

“IN the Mood” is the swinging show so famous in its home country that in 1993 it was chosen as the official entertainment for the US 50th Commemoration of World War II – and it’s been on the road ever since.

Nineteen cast members, including the String of Pearls Big Band orchestra and In the Mood singers and dancers will perform hits such as  “Chattanooga Choo Choo”, “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (of Company B)” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street” at Canberra Theatre this month.

“In the Mood” dancers jump to the famous Tommy Dorsey number “Well, Git It!”.

It’s been here three times before and its creator, music director and pianist Bob Forrest couldn’t be happier about revisiting the hits of Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra and the Andrews Sisters.

“CityNews” catches up with him by phone to Williamsburg, Virginia.

Forrest is the master of nostalgia, having created the whole concept of “In the Mood”, a tribute to music of the 1940s and a simpler era.

“It’s been my role to keep the quality of the production up, to have people who can ensure the longevity of ‘In The Mood’,” he says.

He’s well qualified. A former Juilliard student who started playing classical piano aged eight, he also grew up enjoying pop music and later lived in Washington DC for years as leader and accompanist of the official chorus and band of the US Air Force.

“Gradually I gravitated to the music of the 1940s, an exciting time in world history with songs written then that are timeless,” he says.

“There is no story in the show. The music makes the story and it has a worldwide rapport with people… the songs are still loved and are testimony to the trials of people all over the world.”

In Forrest’s view, the 1940s was a “signature decade” in the 20th century, “but it’s the job of our artists to take those songs and turn them into something special.”

“We remember events appropriate to the song… grandparents, children, and relatives all remember certain things in their lives and we pick up on those emotions,” he says.

“It’s great to sing songs with meaning, it’s like poetry set to music.”

While the mood is generally upbeat, his idea is to balance the positive and the negative elements.

“We illustrate to audiences what it must’ve been like to be around in the 1940s,” he says.

“Don’t forget that in the big-band era there was no TV, no internet and swing dance was prevalent – it was so energetic.”

As a musician, he is fascinated by the eclectic origins of big-band music, noting that the song “Stardust” goes back to 1927 and even “In the Mood” itself was Glenn Miller’s reworking of an old song.

“The music was designed a different way, very unique sound. It was not like rock ‘n’ roll, it came out of the jazz movement of the 1920s and fused into the big-band movement,” he says.

Everywhere his troupe goes, they evoke strong feelings, so he and his artists like to do a meet-and-greet at the end of their show.

“People are crying, we see it, we feel it, the emotion is very special and very serious,” Forrest says.

“In the Mood”, Canberra Theatre, Sunday, October 28.

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Helen Musa
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