Local playwright and director Jennifer Schmidt created the production as a way to honor veterans during the Fourth of July weekend while indulging in her love of 1940s-era patriotic music. In the decade since, it has become the community theatre’s most popular show.
This year’s “1940s USO Show” opens Thursday, with performances continuing on the JRT stage at 7:30 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays; 1, 4 and 7:30 p.m., Saturdays; and 2 and 7:30 p.m., Sundays, through July 7.
As America entered World War II, radio air waves served as the key source of news for families on the home front as well as entertainment for troops stateside and abroad.
Early in 1941, entertainment industry professionals helped the USO begin “camp shows,” with the entertainers waiving pay and working conditions to bring live entertainment to the troops at bases within the United States. Upon the United States’ entry into World War II, “USO Camp Shows” expanded to bring live entertainment to Americans fighting overseas.
JRT’s “1940s USO Show” is patterned after live radio broadcasts of those performances, with the theatre’s WJRT radio station taking audiences back to the 1940s through performances of classic hits like “Rosie the Riveter,” “Route 66,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and more. The show ends with the moving “Armed Forces Medley,” a musical salute to veterans.
Members of this year’s cast are Bob Browning, Ben Bolt, Lindy Ley, Josh Baldwin, Marvin Glover, Gabbie Cobick, Lucas Schmidt, Jill Janaitis, Roxanne Halford, Shelley Bolt, Sharon Squibb, Janette Gaines, Jennifer Schmidt, DJ Smith, Heather Allen, Hannah Jeffress, Don Squibb, David Hutton, Bill Livesay, Christian Vanders, Erin Riddle, Susan Saam, Sarah Sanders, Kristin Belisle, Pam Williams, Nancy Peak and Corey Tickles.
The show is directed by Schmidt, with choreography by Kristin Belisle.
An Illinois native, Schmidt was guided by her local minister to Milligan College, where she majored in music and minored in theatre. In 1981, she jumped headlong into the local community theatre scene with a role in JRT’s “Irene.” Schmidt’s other acting credits include roles in “South Pacific,” “Guys and Dolls,” “1776” and “Lil’ Abner.”
But JRT’s “1940s USO Show” holds special meaning for Schmidt, whose husband Mike serves as JRT’s house manager and son Lucas stars in several of JRT’s productions throughout the year.
“The most amazing part of the ‘USO Show’ is honoring the individuals who played a role in the war effort,” she said.
“There are always veterans at the show who stand up and are applauded by the crowd at the end. There usually isn’t a dry eye in the audience during the Armed Forces Medley, one of my favorite parts.
“It’s just our way of giving back to those who gave it all.”
The show’s popularity has led to several requests for traveling performances, including one in Mountain City on July 13. In response, the theater is making an effort to take not just the “1940s USO Show,” but other JRT productions on the road through the newly formed JRT Players.
“We want to perform around the region for groups and events that showcase the quality of work here at Jonesborough Repertory Theatre,” Schmidt said.
Tickets to the “1940s USO Show” performances at JRT are $14 for general admission, $12 for students and seniors, and $9 for groups of 15 or more.
JRT is located at 125 W. Main St., across from Jonesborough Presbyterian Church and next door to the historic Eureka Inn.
To purchase tickets or for more information, call the Historic Jonesborough Visitors Center at (423) 753-1010 or visit www.jonesboroughtheatre.com.