“The Pin-Up Girls” is a funny, touching tribute to service members and their families

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The four cast members of 'The Pin-Up Girls' on stage dancing
'The Pin-Up Girls' photo by Andrea Phox Photography

A WWI soldier whose accidental injuries turn into gallant battle wounds

The four cast members of 'The Pin-Up Girls' on stage dancing
‘The Pin-Up Girls’ photo by Andrea Phox Photography

Is there nothing that the New Jersey Repertory Company cannot do? I’ve seen them produce side-splitting comedies and emotionally gripping dramas. Now they serve up a sweet, moving musical tribute to American servicemen who have gone off to war and the loved ones left behind with The Pin-Up Girls, a revue written by James Hindman (What Doesn’t Kill You) and Jeffrey Lodin.

The frame of this show is an entertainment being put on at a soon-to-be-demolished VFW Hall by four local talents. Bossy Leanne (Brittany Jeffery), flirtatious Megan (Sara Glancy), schoolteacher Dana (Pheonix Vaughn), and Leanne’s brother Joel (AJ Melnick) make up The Pin-Up Girls singing group. (Joel replaces the group’s fourth member, who went into labor the day before the show.) While helping clean out the VFW Hall, they discovered a trove of letters to and from service members from the Civil War to Afghanistan. The words and emotions contained in these pieces of paper inspire the group to create a show honoring all those who served in battle.

The show begins and ends with the 50’s number “Please, Mr. Postman.” The group performs numbers from different eras, sometimes putting a song in a setting from a different age. For example, Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” is used to express feelings in a letter sent to a soldier in World War I by his girlfriend, while Irving Berlin’s “Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning” is sung by a soldier in Afghanistan.

The four cast members of 'The Pin-Up Girls' standing on stage
‘The Pin-Up Girls’ photo by Andrea Phox Photography

Each of the four talented performers gets their chance to shine. Melnick’s Joel provides comedy in three vignettes about Wilbur, a WWI soldier whose accidental injuries turn into gallant battle wounds in his letters home. He later performs a longing version of Johnny Mercer’s “P.S. I Love You.” Jeffery’s Leanne impersonates Bob Hope through the years in a section honoring the USO but also delivers the anguish of a mother whose son goes missing in action in the song “Letters from War.” Vaughn’s Dana relates her sister’s story of losing a service buddy in the poignant “On a Bus to St. Cloud” by Gretchen Peters. Glancy’s Megan takes a break from flirting with the audience to deliver a heartfelt version of the Gershwin classic “Someone to Watch Over Me.” Deftly accompanying the cast in their musical numbers is the show’s co-creator, Jeffrey Lodin, as Mr. T, the school music teacher, performing on keyboards.

I have seen bigger musicals put on by other local theaters, with larger casts and flashier sets and costumes. Yet I have not seen many who come close to the emotional honesty and power of The Pin-Up Girls. New Jersey Repertory Company is to be congratulated for mounting this original, funny, touching show. I cannot more strongly urge you to make the trip to Long Branch to see The Pin-Up Girls!

The Pin-Up Girls is presented by the New Jersey Repertory Company at their theater in Long Branch through July 10th. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 732-229-3166 or visit njrep.org. The theater requires that masks be worn while inside the building.