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'USO-Oh!' an homage to '40s entertainment

When you think USO, naturally an image of Bob Hope on stage, yukking it up in front of a sea of troops, pops into your head.

But can the equally incomparable Rob Cope and his zany cohorts be far from anyone's mind, as the PlayRights Community Theatre troupe ready their production of "USO-Oh!"?

The show is 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 24 and Saturday, April 25 at the Morris Area Concert Hall.

The performances, which feature the music of General Mills and his Privates, are fundraisers for the PlayRights and the University of Minnesota, Morris Jazz Band.

The Jazz Band, under the direction of Jim "Doc" Carlson, will play a starring role in the shows, along with many of the regular PlayRight performers: Jim Thoreen, Patti Burns, Suzette Fitzgerald, Sally Finzel, Charlie Glasrud, John Kleinwolterink, Twig Webster, Adair Horgen, Mary Jo Hoffman, Lisa Kleinwolterink, Scott Banta, Mieka Hoffman, Mike Vandenberg, Jim Barbour, Shaune Wunder, Sharon Rae Martin and Chuck Grussing.

And before the Friday performance, the Camp Bland Mess Hall will be open, with the Prairie Renaissance Cultural Alliance serving Slop on a Bun, Beans, Something Sweet for Dessert, and Something to Wash it Down for a price.

Tickets are on sale at the PRCA and Willie's Super Valu, and at the door beginning at 5:30 p.m. on the days of the performances.

The USO theme came about as a way to feature the Jazz Band more, and to pay homage to Carlson, who is retiring this year, Grussing said.

This will be the Jazz Band's fourth collaboration with PlayRights, but recent shows hadn't brought the band to the fore of the performances, he said.

With that as the starting point, Bonnie Thoreen suggested a USO-type framework for the performers, Grussing said.

"She had a sense for what our troupe does best, which is vintage schtick," Grussing said. "With that, and our involvement with the Jazz Band, it made sense."

"USO-Oh!" is set at Camp Bland, in Italy, in 1944. Those not in the military remember USO shows only through radio broadcasts. The live performances were on austere sets, and "USO-Oh!" follows that trend, he said.

"There are not a lot of trappings," Grussing said.

The Big Band and Swing music will complement the comedy routines, and the audience will hear songs such as "Blue Skies," "Side by Side," "Glow Worm," "We'll Meet Again." The Cufflinks also are expected to grace the stage.

Twig Webster and Shaune Wunder took the lead on producing the show and have lent their theatrical talents generously, Grussing said.

"They have been able to bring all their theater talents into it," Grussing said. "It's easy for the rest of us, if pointed in the right direction, to muddle through."

Beyond the Jazz Band and PlayRights, "USO-Oh!" truly is a collaborative effort. The Pope County Showstoppers have helped by lending the cast its wireless microphone system, and UMM Media Services also have provided technical assistance, Grussing said.

"It's not just the Morris theatre group," he said. "A lot of people are lending their time and talents."