“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.

Allen Neuner is the theater reviewer at Out in Jersey magazine. Jersey born and raised, Allen went to his first live play in 1957 and has been deliriously in love with live theater ever since. He works in the box office at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick. He has been partnered to music reviewer Bill Realman Stella, with whom he is also deliriously in love, for over 20 years. They live in an over-cluttered house in Somerville.