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Say hello to USO SHOW

The air seems to vibrate with “red, white and blue,” as tap dancers pat-a-pat-pat across the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre stage, and a rousing number of “Hawaiian War Chant” echoes in the wings.
It’s just another night of rehearsal for this year’s “1940s USO Show,” set to begin Thursday, and cast and crew may be even more excited than ever.
“It’s a completely different show every year, and I believe this is the best show we’ve ever done,” said Jennifer Schmidt, show creator and director, as well as JRT’s artistic director.
Now in its 10th season, the USO Show features singing, dancing and comedy packaged as an old-time radio show. This year, USO is scheduled to run June 27 through July 7, with night performances on Thursdays through Sundays and matinees Saturdays and Sundays. In keeping with its opening 10 years ago, the show will also continue to play an integral part for the town’s Jonesborough Days, July 5-7.
“The USO Show is such a perfect fit for Jonesborough,” Schmidt said. “The town is so steeped in history, and they’ve always told stories of their past. This is one very special story from our past.”
Of course, one of the best parts of this year’s show, according to Schmidt, is that it’s a little bit of the old mixed with the new.
“We now have professional dancers and a live band, something we certainly didn’t have in the beginning,” Schmidt said. “We have new songs. I’ve found that there is so much material to draw from that era. But, in honor of our 10th anniversary, we’ve also brought back some old favorites. And, we always include the ‘Armed Services Medley.’”
The audience can expect to tap their toes to “Zip a Dee Doo Da” and laugh out loud to retro commercial skits and scenes from Fibber McGee and Molly. But don’t be surprised if you also shed a tear, Schmidt said, because, deep down, this production is all about paying tribute to our troops, past and present.
“We always spotlight veterans in the audience during the ‘Armed Services Medley,’” she said. “It’s about the sacrifices they’ve made for us.”
That theme is, in fact, what keeps so many of the cast coming back.
“I was just finishing up another show when this came up,” recalled Josh Baldwin, who has been with the USO Show from the beginning. “It, to me, is one of the best things I’ve ever done. Both of my grandfathers were in the military, and one still comes to the show. It’s so special to me to see them all stand up, including my grandfather.
“But it’s not just about my family members,” he added. “You feel like you have a connection to each and every service member who stands.”
Sharon Squibb, another cast member who has been with USO from the start, also found herself drawn to the production for more than its entertainment value.
“This show is so much fun,” Squibb said. “And the people I’ve met are some of my best friends. I also like the fact that it’s an original. Jennifer wrote it, and each year we enhance it more and more.
“But I’m so proud of our country and our veterans. I look forward to doing this all year long.”
Janette Gaines, another USO original, agrees.
“I am from a military family,” Gaines explained. From father to uncles to her husband, she has felt the impact and importance of military service personally and relishes taking part in a production that says, “thanks.”
“We don’t want to take our freedom for granted,” Gaines said. “We want to say ‘we recognize you for what you have done and are doing.’”
This desire to salute hometown heroes is still bringing them in, according to Schmidt, as each year, new singers, dancers and actors sign up for the show.
“I feel like we’ve gone away from so much, and this is a reminder,” said Sarah Sanders, new to the USO Show this year. “My grandfather was in World War II, I had two uncles in Vietnam, and I have a cousin in Iraq. This is for them.”
Erin Riddle, also new this year, was drawn to the production not only by a grandfather who was a World War II veteran, but by her grandmother, Mildred Cooper, a World War II era nurse.
“She comes every year, and I had heard so much about the show,” Riddle said. “It’s wonderful to now be a part of it.”
— Lisa Whaley is a free-lance writer contracted by the Town of Jonesborough to write “Talk of the Town.” Have a suggestion for a topic? Call Town Hall at 753-1031 or e-mail [email protected]