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Memorial Day Special: The Andrews Sisters and the Sherman Brothers, “Over Here!”

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We interrupt our regularly-scheduled Memorial Day hiatus to bring you this surprise holiday feature!

It was 1972, but 1959 was all the rage.  Grease was the word then, as it is now.  The little musical from Chicago’s Kingston Mines Theatre had opened on Broadway where it would garner seven Tony Award nominations, run for a then- record-breaking 3,388 performances and spawn a massively successful film version.  Grease was the toast of New York, launching the careers of Adrienne Barbeau, Barry Bostwick and Walter Bobbie, among others.  But its producers, Kenneth Waissman and Maxine Fox, naturally wondered how they could top their hit.  How about doing for the 1940s what Grease did for the 1950s?  The result was Over Here!, a light-hearted romp billed as “America’s big band musical.”  On Memorial Day 2011, we celebrate this nostalgic wartime musical in tribute to the courageous and heroic servicemen who have given their lives for their country. 

Waissman and Fox enlisted a veritable Grease army for their new production.  Set designer Douglas W. Schmidt, costume designer Carrie Robbins, vocal and dance arranger Louis St. Louis, choreographer Patricia Birch and director Tom Moore all returned to the fold.  This team was joined by the top-billed Andrews Sisters, a young actor from a Grease touring company named John Travolta, writer Will Holt and two very special gentlemen of whom we’re very fond here at The Second Disc: Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman.

Known for their scores to countless classic Walt Disney productions (from films to theme park attractions), The Sherman Brothers were both veterans of United States military service, Richard in the Korean War and Robert in World War II.  Hired directly by Walt Disney as the company’s first staff songwriters, the Shermans contributed countless songs to the fabric of Americana, including “It’s a Small World,” often considered the most performed song in history, and the Academy Award-winning score to Mary Poppins.  After Disney’s passing in 1966, they continued working inside and outside the company, and in 1971, they premiered the score to their first stage musical.  Victory Canteen had its debut at Los Angeles’ Ivar Theatre starring Patty Andrews, of The Andrews Sisters.  Robert told Didier C. Deutsch, “[Waissman and Fox] had seen Victory Canteen…and thought it might be a good idea for Broadway,” and Richard continued, “They decided it wasn’t big enough in scope, so they brought in a new writer, Will Holt, a very talented guy with a lot of theatrical experience.”  Holt replaced original writers Milt Larsen (co-founder of Hollywood’s famous Magic Castle) and Bobby Lauher, and while the Sherman Brothers were retained, they fashioned an entirely new score to match the new script.  Holt’s story depicted Pauline and Paulette DePaul, entertainers en route to Europe to perform for U.S. servicemen.  They’re seeking a third voice to fill out their harmonies, and find the ideal voice in Mitzi.  The only problem?  Mitzi is a German spy!  And she’s equipped with lipstick that’s really a radio transmitter! 

Let’s meet at the canteen after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

May 30, 2011 at 13:21