Young performer pays tribute to World War II-era USO (The Pearlman Sisters, Philadelphia Daily News)

October 18, 2013

By Chuck Darrow


Samantha Joy Pearlman is ready to party like it's 1944.

Tonight, the 23-year-old Wesleyan University grad opens a two-day, three-show run of "Devotedly, Sincerely Yours: The Story of the USO," at the Harold Prince Theater at the Annenberg Center, on the University of Pennsylvania campus. The small musical revue pays tribute to the women entertainers who sacrificed personal safety to bring a little musical comfort and joy to American soldiers during World War II.

That Pearlman isn't even old enough to remember the Gulf War may make her subject matter rather surprising. But, as she explained during a recent phone call, it was a no-brainer, especially once her research began in earnest.

"I've always loved World War II history and that style of movies and music, and that was definitely the period in history I wanted to focus on," she said.

Actually, the musicale, which played the 2012 Philly Fringe Festival, began life as an academic, rather than show business, exercise.

Pearlman, a native of Westchester County, north of New York City, decided to do her senior thesis on some aspect of World War II. Her research led her to a cache of 25 boxes containing scripts, publicity releases and other material relating to the USO (United Service Organization), the private, non-profit entity which, to this day, provides entertainment and recreational programs for military personnel here and abroad.

Thanks to this treasure trove of souvenirs, Pearlman "completely fell in love with the stories of all these courageous women, and so I started to study them and write about them and emulate them."

But the game-changer for the young woman was one particular artifact contained in the archives. "The first box I look at," she recalled, "there was an eight-page letter from this woman, Louise Buckley - the character I play in the show-describing her experiences entertaining the troops; [there were] 'thousands of men in the rain,' all of the things she was experiencing.

"After I read this letter, [I knew] this was gonna be my play, my field of study - to learn about the women that did this great service for our country."

As for the score, Pearlman said that while it contains standards like "Accentuate the Positive" and "On the Sunny Side of the Street," and tunes by such immortals as Irving Berlin and Frank Loesser, many of the songs she performs are by the lesser-known (but extremely successful and prolific) team of James Monaco and Johnny Burke, who primarily wrote for movies.

Although nostalgia has a role in "Devotedly, Sincerely Yours," Pealman insisted that there was more than sentimentality at play in her show.

"I think by performing USO material from before, it helps both citizens and servicemen and -women to reflect upon our country's history and how we identify ourselves as American, and what that mean to us," she said.

"To perform what was performed for military men in the '40s for a civilian audience today carries a lot of power and point of reflection for all of us to look and see how we celebrate what our identity is today."