Monday, November 16, 2020

383. OVER HERE! From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Patty and Maxene Andrews and company.
OVER HERE! [Musical/Military/Period/Show Business] B: Will Holt; M/LY: Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman; D: Tom Moore; CH: Patricia Birch; S: Douglas W. Schmidt; C: Carrie F. Robbins; L: John Gleason; P: Kenneth Waisman and Maxine Fox; T: Sam S. Shubert Theatre; 3/6/74-1/4/75 (348)

Ann Reinking, John Mineo.

Over Here! was an explosion of nostalgia-driven musical energy that rocked Broadway with the Big Band sounds and rhythms of the American Home Front during World War II, as exemplified by the singing of the nation’s most popular female trio, the Andrews Sisters. Patty and Maxene. The surviving siblings (Laverne had died in 1967), now in their fifties, made their Broadway debuts wearing USO canteen hostess uniforms. These may have revealed their ampler figures but failed to dim their memorable eight-to-the-bar singing style. The show called them the de Paul Sisters, Maxene playing Pauline and Patty Paulette.

The paper-thin book supporting the Andrews Sisters placed the action on board a train carrying troops from California to New York for embarkation to the European fighting zones. The evocative and colorful d├ęcor of rainbow arcs and drops, and period slides and posters, combined with the just-right costumes to transport audiences back to bygone days of the early 40s. The effect, wrote Jack Kroll, was “like a theme show taking place at some Radio City Music Hall in the skies.” Even a Big Band rising on an elevator trap to become part of the background, was incorporated into the picture.

Janie Sell.

Mixing fantasy with realism, the show used the services of a genial M.C. called Norwin Spokesman (Douglass Watson) to move the plot along. What there was of a story concerned the search aboard the speeding train for a new singer to join the de Paul Sisters’ act, and the sisters’ discovery of one in the person of a talented Marlene Dietrich-like femme called Mitzi (Janie Sell). Unfortunately, Mitzi turns out to be a Nazi spy, so the de Pauls continue as a duet.

Instead of using actual period songs, Over Here! employed an excellent pastiche score by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman that sounded as close to the familiar standards as possible while remaining original and inventive in its own right. The 17 songs included “The Beat Begins,” “Over Here,” “Buy a Victory Bond,” “The Good-Time Girl,” “Wait for Me Marlena,” “Wartime Wedding,” and “Don’t Shoot the Hooie to Me, Louie.” For those demanding a reprise of Andrews Sisters favorites, the pair obliged after the final curtain with a mini-concert. Audiences fondly appreciated swinging again to the upbeat harmonies of “Bei Mir Bist du Shoen,” “Beer Barrel Polka,” and others.

Ann Reinking, John Mineo.

The Andrews Sisters were in excellent voice and were surrounded by a constantly moving show, excellently staged by Tom Moore. One or two critics were curmudgeonly toward the stars. John Simon, for instance, called them “nostalgia without any class.” He liked only one thing about the production, the choreography of Patricia Birch, an achievement also applauded by his colleagues. Birch’s lindy hops, jitterbugs, and boogie woogies, featuring the flying feet of the dynamic Ann Reinking and John Mineo, were showstoppers. A dance Birch devised or Samuel E. Wright as a Pullman porter was another highlight.

April Shawhan, John Driver.

Several reviewers snapped at the show’s overt pandering to memories of an age long gone, and others were displeased with the flimsy writing, but the general opinion was that these faults were far outweighed by the overall exuberance and joie de vivre display. “Over Here is the first show to use nostalgia with good faith and sophisticated self-awareness,” Kroll insisted. “[I]t is going to provide a great many people with some happy moments,” noted Edwin Wilson. “As a musical it is preposterously bad,” admitted Clive Barnes, “but also preposterously engaging and . . . devilishly clever.”

The supporting cast included names that soon grew in importance so, like McIntyre Dixon, Bette Henritze, Marilu Henner, April Shawhan, Phyllis Somerville, Treat Williams, and the young John Travolta (previously on Broadway as a replacement in Grease), as someone called Misfit. Janie Sell, was singled out for her show-stealing talents as the potential third de Paul sister. She was good enough, in fact, to snare the Tony for Best Supporting Actress, Musical. 

The show itself was nominated for Best Musical, Tom Moore was nominated for Best Director, Musical, and Carrie F. Robbins for Best Costume Designer. Robbins also was given a Drama Desk Award for her costumes, while Douglas W. Schmidt’s set was similarly honored. Theatre World Awards went to Patricia Birch, John Driver, Ann Reinking, and Janie Sell.