Riveting new musical revisits Rosie’s WWII

Three of the actresses playing the Mitchell Sisters, the three main characters of the new musical Rivets, are (from left) Molly Lewis, Erica Maier (the understudy for Shawn Creighton) and Monica Lenk.  Rivets is performed on the SS Red Oak Victory in the former Kaiser Richmond Shipyards in the Rosie the Riveter National Park. Photos by Brett D’Ambrosio

There’s something about Rosie the Riveter – the collective name given to the women who joined the shipbuilding workforce while the men were fighting World War II – capturing our collective imagination. Maybe it’s the idea of sacrifice and dedication during a time of war, which is something we haven’t exactly been asked to do in the six years we’ve been at war in the Middle East.

There are no less than two musicals happening locally that celebrate the Rosie the Riveter workforce. One is in development: Marcus Gardley and Molly Holm’s
This World in a Woman’s Hands, which will debut in the early fall of 2009 as part of the Shotgun Players season.

And the other – Kathryn G. McCarty’s Rivets — has been in development for a decade and first saw the light of the stage earlier this year at Contra Costa College then again at the Lesher Center for the Arts.

McCarty’s show, which features her book and lyrics and a score by Mitchell Covington, is about to receive another production, but it won’t be on a stage. In true Rosie, fashion, this production is headed for the shipyards.

When Rivets opens on Thursday, Oct. 9, it will be onboard the SS Red Oak Victory, which is on the site of the historic Kaiser Richmond Shipyards in the Rosie the Riveter National Park. The Red Oak is the last surviving Victory ship built by Rosie the Riveter, Wendy the Welder and Dynamite Dorothy and launched in the Kaiser Richmond Shipyard.

“When we’re on the ship rehearsing in Hold 3, saying the lines and knowing the history, I just get goose bumps,” McCarty says.

A self-described Air Force brat who grew up with stories about World War II and her father’s 20 years in the military, McCarty began thinking about the Rosie the Riveter experience as a musical about 10 years ago.

“Because it all happened here in the Bay Area, I knew it was a story that needed to be told here,” says McCarty a Concord resident. “In doing the research, it’s one thing to memorize the numbers. But what was amazing to me is the way people dedicated themselves to the war effort. Americans truly came together for World War II. It’s amazing how much people gave when you think that 16 million men were gone. A whole generation of young women watched virtually all of the men leave. As a writer, you have to put yourself in their shoes and be in that time period. As Americans, we just don’t look at war the way they did.”

Watching the presidential debates with Obama and McCain claiming that ordinary people are doing extraordinary things, McCarty says she wonders if the country is slowly realizing the importance of choosing to be extraordinary by being part of something greater than themselves.”

“I think maybe we’re headed into some kind of consciousness of that,” she says. “As an artist, I do this work because I feel it needs to be done. The politician talks about it because they think it’s what we want to hear.”

McCarty, a veteran playwright of shows such as The Ladies Quintet and Bessie! The Life of Bessie Smith, created fictional characters based on real women. For this version of the show, she and director Clay David have done some major revisions and added six new songs.

She has a cast of 35 and a wide-ranging show that explores the personal and the historical.

“I’ve blended history with fiction,” she says. “We explore many aspects of 1940s America, including American industrialization, war propaganda, rationing and the changing roles between the sexes and the races. Doing research I repeatedly encountered stories of ordinary men and women, mostly unskilled and uneducated, doing extraordinary work that changed our entire history. Had the United States not stood together for one goal, we certainly would have lost World War II.”

Here’s a video sampling of Rivets:

Rivets continues through Oct. 26 onboard the SS Red Oak Victory, 1337 Canal Blvd., Berth 6A, Richmond. Shows are at 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $20 (free for Rosies, WWII veterans and uniformed soldiers). Call 925-676-5705 or visit www.galateanplayers.com.

  • Tours of the SS Red Oak Victory are available before all Sunday performances. $5 donation requested.
  • During Fleet Week, there will be a pancake breakfast onboard the sheep from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 12. $6 – the views from the deck of the Golden Gate and Bay bridges are free.

2 thoughts on “Riveting new musical revisits Rosie’s WWII

  1. Would you allow this “Rivets” musical to be preformed by a military theatre group for its base? If so, what all is involved in being allowed to do this? thanks.

  2. I hope you are including my favorite song of the era:
    “I Want to Give My Dog to Uncle Sam”.
    It was a favorite with the shipyard workers, many of who were from eastern rural areas. One could hear it on the radio several times a day in the 1940s.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *