Retro Rubbish

The Puppini Sisters
The Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel
59 West 44th Street
Through June 9

Arriving at the Algonquin’s august Oak Room on a crest of hype they do not deserve, a female pop trio called the Puppini Sisters has taken over where the Andrews Sisters left off. They should be so lucky. A frantic and hastily conceived take on distaff retro groups from the 1940’s, they milk everything for laughs, even solid wartime nostalgia like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “In the Mood.” They have no lead singer like Patty Andrews, and for starters, they’re not siblings at all. Their voices are not distinctive, in either harmony or solo. Garbed in costume rejects from movies like Reveille with Beverly and Pardon My Rhythm, they wear wax hibiscus flowers in their hair, swaying with choreographed Hawaiian hula-hand movements, in front of three musicians dressed like Li’l Abner. And they’re not even retro. Moving like Egyptian trapezoids on the gruesome pop song “Walk Like an Egyptian,” they do nothing June Allyson didn’t think of first in the “Cleopatterer” number from MGM’s Till the Clouds Roll By, back in 1946. Kate Bush’s ghastly “Wuthering Heights” and a vulgar comedy song called “Right Key, Wrong Keyhole” are derailed by a silly surfeit of shtick, gimmicks and low camp. On “Mr. Sandman,” they play accordions, mouth organs and a toy fiddle in the shape of a dollar sign. This is New York, girls, not the barnyard follies.

In England, they’re heralded as chart-busting jazz singers. This is curious, until you remember that England is also where they call a lox like Stacey Kent the new Ella. I guess I was foolish enough to hope for something more sophisticated. When it comes to close-harmony vocal groups, nobody tops the Hi-Los, but I also dig the Singers Unlimited, Mel-Tones, Four Freshmen, Honeydreamers, Pied Pipers, Modernaires and Manhattan Transfer. Close-harmony sister acts from the 40’s are cornier and more musically square, but at times I can also take limited exposure to various Kings, Boswells, Bells, Dinnings, McGuires and Lennons. Still, a little goes a long way, and, as far as I’m concerned, the Puppinis can just keep on going.