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Musical revue honors 'Greatest Generation'

Lauren James and Edward Miller want to be sure the actions and sacrifices of those who lived during the Great Depression and World War II are not forgotten.

For the past decade, the duo has presented "The Greatest Generation: A Musical Tribute" throughout the state. James sings songs from the '30s and '40s while Miller provides narration about the music, movies and historical events of the era. Photos and film clips shown on a large multi-media screen further bring those harrowing but inspiring times to life.

The two Rogue Valley residents will present their show at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 10, and 1 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 11, at Randall Theatre, 10 E. Third St., Medford. Tickets are $10. World War II veterans, their spouses and audience members age 85 and older get in free. Call 541-632-3258 or see www.randalltheatre.com for tickets.

"It means a lot to me that people feel their contribution is not forgotten. A lot of elders in this day and age feel forgotten," James says.

"These veterans, who are now in their late 80s and 90s, are among the greatest heroes of our time, and we're hoping to tell their story in a way that their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will never forget," she adds.

James and Miller are part of the Baby Boomer generation. Miller's father was in the Navy during World War II.

James, who has long been performing songs from the '30s and '40s, says Miller came up with the idea 10 years ago to create a show featuring music from that era. 

"It evolved into becoming a tribute concert," she says. "It became more meaningful than being just about the music itself. It's about the people. Music was just vital to them in that time period."

James says people who had to face the Depression and World War II developed a sense of shared purpose and solidarity.

"Their mind-set was, 'We can do it all together.' They all became very united. It's that spirit of the Greatest Generation that we underline," she says. "It's not just about the Depression, World War II, movies and songs. It's about the spirit of the time."

The reference to the Greatest Generation in the show's title is borrowed from journalist Tom Brokaw, who popularized the term with his book "The Greatest Generation."

"On two fronts, the Great Depression and World War II, they faced the worst of the worst and they not only prevailed, they rightfully earned the title of 'The Greatest Generation,'" Miller says.

The show opens with the tune "I Feel a Song Coming On," which has been sung for decades by stars including Judy Garland.

It begins:

I feel a song coming on

And I'm a-warning you

It's a victorious, happy and glorious new strain

Miller says the song is a great way to launch the show.

"The show is positive, upbeat and life-affirming," he says.

Through narration, images and music, the show recalls entertainers of the time, including singer and actor super-stars Shirley Temple and Bing Cosby, plus performing groups like The Andrews Sisters.

It explores not only the sacrifices of soldiers, but those backing the war effort on the home front.

"I'll Walk Alone," recorded by Dinah Shore and subsequent singers, speaks from the perspective of a woman loyally waiting for her soldier boyfriend to come home.

It speaks of the loneliness and hardship people faced, but also their enduring bonds:

I'll always be near you wherever you are each night

In every prayer

If you call I'll hear you, no matter how far

Just close your eyes and I'll be there

James says even after a decade performing the show, she still tears up when she sings the song.

"There's not a dry eye after that song," she says.

Miller says the most inspiring part of the show comes when World War II veterans are asked to come forward so they can be recognized.

"My favorite part of the show is when these men and women come forward and become young people again," he says. "They are standing straight and there is a spark in their eyes."

Musical revue honors 'Greatest Generation'