The United Services Organization (USO) and the Armed Forces Entertainment (AFE) will send out their first Broadway division since the close of the Vietnam War, more than 25 years ago. The outfit — which will feature stars such as Sherie Rene Scott, Alice Ripley and Patrick Wilson — will perform at U.S. and Allied forces military bases and installations around the Mediterranean and in Turkey, where troops engaged in the new war on terrorism are preparing to enter Afghanistan.
Daisy Prince, the daughter of famed director Harold Prince and stager of such shows as Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Years, will direct the revue. Brown himself will act as music director. Michael Arnold of 42nd Street will choreograph. The production will play two shows daily, from Dec. 12 to Dec. 23, said producer David Obele.
The project is the brainchild of Obele, who, during his years with the American Theatre Wing, looked back with fondness on the days of the ATW-sponsored Stage Door Canteen, which entertained servicemen during World War II. "I always said that our community couldn't do that again," Obele told Playbill On-Line. "We always ask how much before we ask what."
The events of Sept. 11, however, encouraged him to resurrect the good will of the past. He called the USO and the AFE and floated the idea of corralling a group of Broadway artists for the entertainment of wartime troops (the help of the film and music industries has already been marshalled). The military organizations instantly approved of the idea, and Obele and co-producer Kurt Deutsch, of Sh-K-Boom Records, began their search for participants.
Among the 19 who said yes are tap dancing wonder Savion Glover, Aida star Sherie Rene Scott, Rocky Horror's Alice Ripley, The Full Monty's Patrick Wilson, B.J. Crosby of Smokey Joe's Cafe, Billy Porter of Miss Saigon, A Class Act's Sara Ramirez and two drummers from Keep Bangin'. The cast will perform a 90-minute show of Broadway and pop standards, accompanied by a six-piece band, under the direction of Brown. (Brown has often acted as musical director on his own shows and those of other composers.) Between the time when Odele called the USO and AFE and the moment when the Pentagon gave its official approval of the enterprise, only one week elapsed. Exact locations of performances are not being released due to security concerns. "I think we are considered a very big target," reasoned Odele.
The entire cast and crew will fly home to the U.S. on the eve of Dec. 23 so that the artists can be home for the holidays.
"Our goal is simple," said Odele, "to give these brave men and women [an escape] from the reality of the war of terrorism and to show our gratitude and support as America responds to the tragedy on Sept. 11."