When you think of entertainment for the troops in Vietnam during the war, you naturally think of the Bob Hope USO extravaganzas. But the U.S. military also provided lots of stage entertainment–including rock music by Philippine bands, comedians from the states, and folk, soul, country and rock bands and even musical comedies performed by Special Service GI’s under a unit called the Command Military Touring Shows.
That includes 1969-70 run of the famed Off Off Broadway sensation, The Fantasticks , put together by a group of eleven soldiers and one female civilian employee. There’s a great article about that not very well known production in the current issue of Esopus , the eccentric, eclectic, glossy black and white nonprofit arts magazine.
The article, “OFF-OFF-OFF BROADWAY, ” is an oral history by four of the GI’s who were in the show: Rick Holen, Joe Mauro, John Nutt, and Bob Sevra.
“The GIs seemed to be transported to another plane of existence during the performances, ” Holen says. “The play lasted only about an hour and a half, but for that short period of time, we felt that we could put at least a temporary stop to the death and devastation, the boredom and total terror of war. The audiences would sometimes give us a standing ovation for five minutes. That is the magic of theater.”