Kansas University Theatre concludes its season with a trip down memory lane, when it opens “Over Here!” Friday night. The 1974 musical with a score by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman and book by Will Holt goes back to the early days of World War II to explore life on the home front during the most important conflict of the 20th century.
“The propaganda movies of the time were designed to support the boys overseas,” says KU Theatre Professor John Staniunas, who directs the production. “This show responds by asking what was happening here.”
The musical is set largely on a train, shipping new recruits from the West Coast east, where they will be deployed to Europe. Soldiers, civilians and the USO intermix to create a picture of the American mindset in the early days of the war.
“I wanted the students to understand what happened in the 1940s and how it really shaped America,” Staniunas says.
The story follows two singing sisters, who are searching for a third person to fill out a trio and launch them on the way to stardom. “Over Here!” was created as a Broadway vehicle for the two surviving Andrews Sisters, Patty and Maxene, and it was immensely successful at the time, earning five Tony nominations, winning one and also netting a pair of Drama Desk Awards.
“Audiences loved seeing those two Andrews Sisters onstage again,” Staniunas says.
It closed in early 1975 under controversial circumstances, when a conflict arose between the Andrews Sisters and the producers. But it launched the careers of Treat Williams, Marilu Henner and John Travolta among others.
“It’s one of those shows that sticks with you,” says Staniunas, who was in a production of it in college shortly after it closed. “The ensemble really pulls together.”
Now, as then, “Over Here!” is a celebration of the music of the 1940s. The Sherman Brothers wrote all original music for the show, but it is in the style of those wartime pieces, particularly the tight harmonies of the Andrews Sisters.
“It’s representing a certain time in our history,” he says. “It’s a love song to a forgotten era.”
“Over Here!” opens Friday, April 25 and runs April 26, 27, and May 2, 3 and 4 on the Crafton-Preyer stage of Murphy Hall on the KU campus. Curtain is 7:30 p.m. except April 27 and May 4, when it is 2:30 p.m. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 864-3982 or online at kutheatre.com.