Music News & Reviews

'In the Mood' revue brings swing era back to SLO

A scene from the nostalgic musical revue "In the Mood," playing at the Performing Arts Center in San Luis Obispo.
A scene from the nostalgic musical revue "In the Mood," playing at the Performing Arts Center in San Luis Obispo.

Are you in the mood for romance? Nostalgia? Soul-stirring patriotic medleys?

On Wednesday, “In the Mood” will transport audiences back in time to the Big Band era, when swing dancers swayed to the sounds of Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and The Andrews Sisters. The musical revue, which visited the Clark Center for the Performing Arts in Arroyo Grande in 2006, 2011 and 2014, is coming to the Performing Arts Center in San Luis Obispo next week.

“I’m not trying to create something new. I’m just trying to recreate it,” said Bud Forrest, creator of “In the Mood.” He serves as the show’s music director, conductor, producer and pianist.

A classically trained musician and conductor who attended New York City’s acclaimed Juilliard School, Forrest was drafted after graduating from Ithaca College in New York.

“It was either go to Vietnam or play piano for the (U.S.) Air Force,” he recalled, so he became the pianist for the Singing Sergeants, the official chorus of the Air Force.

In 1988, Forrest assembled a trio of female singers to perform the music of The Andrews Sisters, one of the swing era’s most successful singing groups.

“I liked their sound and their energy,” he explained.

He put together “In the Mood” — originally featuring a 17-piece big band, plus vocalists — to perform in 1993 at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., attracting the attention of United Service Organizations Inc. (USO), which has been providing live entertainment to U.S. troops and their families since 1941.

Forrest and his group participated in USO tours in 1994 and 1995 as part of the 50th anniversary commemoration of the end of World War II.

“I thought, ‘This is too much fun.’ I just decided to keep it going on my own,” Forrest said.

Over the years, “In the Mood” has toured across the United States and performed in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Europe. Forrest and his group even performed as part of the 1997 inauguration celebration for then-President Bill Clinton.

Forrest’s goal in creating “In the Mood,” he said, was to recreate the experience of seeing a big band in concert in 1940.

Over the course of 2 1/2 hours, six cast members sing and dance to swing-era favorites as “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “Tuxedo Junction” and “Sing, Sing, Sing” accompanied by the 13-member String of Pearls Big Band Orchestra. One singer-dancer serves as a narrator, introducing the songs and providing a bit of historical context.

“In the Mood” even recreates the famous moment — immortalized in a photo by Alfred Eisenstae — when a jubilant American sailor kissed a nurse on V-J Day in New York City’s Times Square.

Visually, “In the Mood” has a “Technicolor Hollywood look” radiant with reds, pinks, purples and blues, said Forrest, whose wife designed the costumes.

Singers and dancers wear period-style suits and dresses featuring the wide-shouldered, slim-waisted silhouette of the 1940s, while the orchestra musicians sport double-breasted navy sports coats, cream-colored slacks, red bowties and stylish two-tone shoes.

“It’s a really a variety show” with a theatrical twist, Forrest said. “(That’s) the best way to describe it.”

“In the Mood” covers the time period between 1935 and 1945, starting with the Great Depression and ending with the end of World War II. “Everybody was listening to Big Band on the radio, on records and jukeboxes,” he said. “It really was the last time that all Americans were listening to the same kind of music.”

Forrest described that swinging sound popularized by likes of Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra and Artie Shaw as “the music that moved the nation’s spirit” both at home and abroad.

“(When) the soldiers and the sailors went overseas, the USO brought over all the entertainers” to perform for them, he said. “(The music) reminded them of home and what they were fighting for.”

To decide which songs would be featured in “In the Mood,” Forrest originally worked with Vic Schoen, the acclaimed arranger, bandleader and composer who worked with acts including Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney and Patti Page.

Although some musical numbers remained unchanged, a portion of the program changes each year. This year’s set list includes “Begin the Beguine,” “I Can’t Get Started,” “Jeepers Creepers,” “Serenade in Blue” and “Swinging on a Star.”

According to Forrest, 25 to 30 percent of the program is determined by his singer-dancers and their individual talents. He often works with younger cast members who have only limited knowledge of the swing era.

“You get a kid who was born in 1989 (and) they don’t know anything about this,” Forrest explained. “I try to talk to them about what this music meant to people, how it had an impact on society. … It’s a psychological undertaking.”

Sometimes, he added, he also educates his audience members.

“A lot of young kids come and sit in the audience with their mouths open because they’ve never heard anything like this before,” he said.

For Baby Boomers and their parents, the show tends to trigger fond memories of cutting a rug on the dance floor or listening to records in the living room.

“Those melodies are timeless,” the arrangements equally enduring, Forrest said. “Those songs are forever. They’re not going anywhere.”

“In the Mood”

7 p.m. Wednesday

Cohan Center, Cal Poly

$28 to $68

756-4849 or