‘G.I. Jukebox’ harmonizes with plenty of ‘heart’

Swing era music at community center June 1-4

By: Maria Allard | Warren Weekly | Published May 30, 2017


WARREN — It’s been said that the classics never go out of style, and one local group of performers will sing to that.

Music lovers longing for the tunes made popular during the swing era of World War II will have the opportunity to hear them live when Heart of the Hills Players perform the stage show “G.I. Jukebox” this week at the Warren Community Center, located at 5460 Arden Ave. Performances will be held at 2 p.m. June 1 and 2, at 7 p.m. June 3, and at 3 p.m. June 4.

The Heart of the Hills Players theater group consists of talented individuals ages 50 and older who sing, dance and act. The “G.I. Jukebox” singers and musicians hail from across metro Detroit, including St. Clair Shores, Grosse Pointe Park, Macomb Township, Clinton Township, Warren, Sterling Heights, Farmington Hills, Eastpointe and Roseville.

“G.I. Jukebox” is a two-act musical stage play that drifts back to the days of big band music. Audience members can expect to hear “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo,” “Sentimental Journey,” “Don’t Fence Me In,” “God Bless America” and many more. The show is 95 percent musical performance, and three- and four-part harmonies are required. Bill Baird is the musical director.

“There are 29 songs represented in the show,” show director Chancey P. Miller said. “Most of them come from the late ’30s and up to 1944. It’s a big band sound. Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, the Andrew Sisters. It was written as a memory piece. We remember the second world war. All of the music comes from what would be on jukeboxes here at home in the ’40s on 78 (rpm records).”

Miller, 75, of Shelby Township, said that “G.I. Jukebox” was actually written for a four-member cast, but since there are about 30 Heart of the Hills Players members who auditioned, the stage show was set up to work for a larger cast.

“You can’t take a group like ours and leave anyone out that is willing to do it,” Miller said, adding that the show is about two hours long. 

Joanie Rizzio, 57, of Troy, is ready to take center stage alongside her castmates.

“We love to put a smile on your face for two hours and you forget about your troubles,” she said. “The bottom line is entertaining the audience.”

Along with the music, the show will embody the clothing styles of the era, as the performers will be in costume.

“There’s glitz and glamour and jewelry,” Rizzio said. “We’ve got long gowns. People love to see sparkles under the lights.” 

For chorus member Carol Burt, “Sentimental Journey” is her favorite song in the show.

“I just love the melody. The words are just beautiful,” the Shelby Township resident said. “It’s got a beautiful beat.”

Listening to the songs in “G.I. Jukebox” brought back memories for Burt. She said her mom, now 95, used to listen to a local disc jockey named Jack the Bell Boy on AM radio, and these are the songs he played.

“As long as you were home, you were listening to him,” Burt said. “Everyone can relate to these songs. Everyone has that feeling of going back to their childhoods.”

“G.I. Jukebox” will mark the first show for Heart of the Hills Players newcomer Al Moore. The 81-year-old Berkley resident has a solo in “Moonlight Serenade.” Moore joined the acting troupe recently at the suggestion of cast member Patsy Matyas, who was already in the group.

“I lost my wife in August (2016). I was down in the dumps,” Moore said. “Patsy, she knew I was down. She wanted me to get involved in something. In March I started. They’re great people. The group is wonderful. They’re all supportive. They all back you.”

Rizzio and Burt agreed.

“I love the people,” Burt said.

Moore was married to his wife, Georgina for 33 years. He believes she would be “proud” of his participation in the show.

Tickets cost $14 in advance and $16 at the door, or $10 each for groups of 10 or more purchased in advance. For tickets, call the Warren Community Center at (586) 268-8400.

For more information on Heart of the Hills Players, visit hohplayers.org.