From the saxophone section’s opening line, joined by the trumpet section, followed by the trombones and entire orchestra, the beat of Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” is as impossible to sit still to today as it was in 1940. That year Glenn Miller was the top dance band leader in the world and “In the Mood” was No. 1 on the Record Buying Guide — the jukebox list — for 13 weeks. The song remains one of the most recognized and popular instrumentals of the Swing era.
“In the Mood” is the name of Bud Forrest’s 1940s musical tour, opening Three Stages first full season with three shows this weekend, Aug. 27 and 28.
Forrest says the 1940s was the last time all Americans listened to the same music — on the radio, on jukeboxes or in person as bands crisscrossed the country playing in small towns and big cities.
The country had gone through the Great Depression and the world was at war. “There were 130 million Americans then, and 60 million were involved in World War II,” he said. The music was optimistic and an important morale-booster both here and overseas.
Forrest is producer, bandleader and pianist for the two-hour, 10-minute nonstop musical variety show. His 13-member String of Pearls Big Band Orchestra brings together experienced musicians from around the country, including several retired from military bands. The six young professional dancers and singers are under the direction of choreographer Alex Sanchez.
The troupe came to Folsom for 10 days to rehearse, refine and learn this season’s new numbers at Three Stages for the opening in Folsom and their fall tours of New Zealand and Australia and the U.S. that follow.
On Sunday, Aug. 21, Sanchez and the dancer/singers rehearsed their regular eight-hour day at “boot camp” in Three Stages Black Box rehearsal room. The band joins them on Aug. 24.
The music is presented in a series of medleys, with the final tableaux of one song transforming into the next. It is upbeat and energizing, with “breathing room,” as Sanchez calls it, offered by the ballads.
Sanchez, a Chicago native, was accepted into the Ruth Page Ballet Company and danced with the company for 10 years. From there, he went to Broadway and started as understudy for the lead in “The Red Shoes,” then danced in “Carousel” and many other Broadway musicals. He has been with “In the Mood” for two years.
His job is to match the dance to the music, not just in tempo, but in message, look and feel. “The music is the music of hope,” he said. “It held the country together, and gave hope to the soldiers.” He researches every song for its background and meaning. “Swing came out of the Charleston, which had its roots in vaudeville, which was influenced by African dances. It was an evolutionary process,” explained Sanchez.
In building the dances, Sanchez refines every gesture, step and expression until the dance transforms from an entertaining display of rhythmic steps into a story that comes alive. For example, in “Jukebox” he tells the dancers the song is a series of vignettes. The girls are meeting at one of their apartments, getting ready to go out on the town. The boys are doing the same. It’s about the anticipation of having fun, of maybe meeting someone special,” he said.
A. J. Converse, from Rochester, N.Y., has been with the company for four years. He and Liz Baumgartner, from Cleveland, Ohio, in her second year, are the swing dancers. Mark Brighone, from Mt. Vernon, Wash., is also in his second year. Jennifer Andres, from New York City; Tim Quartier, from Syracuse, N.Y.; and Cori Kidder, from Wynne, Ark., have been with the company for one year.
Everything in the show is authentic to the time. Linda Tomlin, Forrest’s wife, is responsible for the costumes. The dresses, shoes, men’s slacks and shirts, and military uniforms are all originals. The men’s hairstyles are vintage. The women wear wigs. Their manicured nails and lipstick are done in the bright red of that decade.
The traveling company totals 24. The tech crew of three handles all the details that make the show work. Brian Lloyd is responsible for the sound and drives the supply truck. Julian Arango handles all the wardrobe details. Andi Schultes makes sure everything runs smoothly at each place the company performs.
Bud Forrest has been leading the “In the Mood” tour for 17 years. He started his musical career when he studied piano at Juilliard when he was in high school in New York City. He joined the Air Force and was stationed in Washington, D.C. as pianist with the U.S. Air Force Band.
In 1988 he put together a female singing group to re-introduce the songs of The Andrews Sisters live. “I liked the sound and the energy of The Andrews Sisters,” he says. He assembled a nine-piece band. “We were more theatrical than the usual musical presentations.”
By 1993 he had 17 musicians and four singers, and was asked by the National Archives to perform on its steps for the 50th commemoration of World War II. Leaders from the USO were in the audience of 5,000. They asked Forrest if he would partner with the USO and go on tour. He toured with the USO for two years before becoming independent. It became his full-time job and mission.
Forrest commented on the company’s stay in Folsom. “The Chamber of Commerce was very helpful. We don’t often have that; in fact, I can’t recall a chamber ever helping us. Mary Ann McAlea (Tourism Director) gave us a lot of guidance.”
He is concerned about the loss of music programs in public schools. “Every one of our musicians is a product of a public school music program,” he said. “So much of music is entrepreneurial. Learning to work together with people with the goal to achieve a performance level is true of every job.”
Forrest says he loves playing in small towns in America. “The music and lyrics are American. It’s timeless. A good melody and good rhythm will last forever.
“We always honor the veterans. It’s a family show, enjoyed by everyone from 8 to 88 and more,” he added.
“In the Mood” will perform at Three Stages on Saturday, Aug. 27, at 2 and 8 p.m. “Saturday night is date night,” said Forrest. Sunday’s matinee is at 2 p.m. Tickets are $25 to $39, with premium tickets for $45. Tickets can be purchased online at threestages.net or from the Three Stages Ticket Office at (916) 608-8888 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and two hours before show time. Three Stages is located on the west side of Folsom Lake College campus, facing East Bidwell Street.