Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Unearthing Rare Second World War Musical

The New Yorker reported in its January 9th issue, that director Tom Ridgely, of the theatre troupe Waterwell, will mount “Blueprint Specials” Jan. 6-11, on the hangar deck of the Intrepid.

Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum | Pier 86, Twelfth Ave. at 46th St. | 212-245-0072

A few years before writing “Guys and Dolls,” which premièred in 1950, Frank Loesser put his sizable talents to work for Uncle Sam, when the U.S. Army hired him to collaborate on a series of musicals to be performed by and for the troops. Commissioned by the Special Services Division to boost morale, these “Blueprint Specials” came with a script, a score, and instructions for easy assemblage. (“The gags and situations are of the type to hit the GI funnybone. . . . The scenery can be knocked together in a jiffy from scrap materials found in even the loneliest outpost.”) Loesser, who had been writing lyrics for Hollywood before the war, cut his teeth crafting songs for camp shows like “About Face” and “Hi, Yank!”; a 1951 Billboard profile proclaimed that “the army made a composer—a one-man songwriter—out of Frank Loesser.”

Many of the scripts were lost to time, but the director Tom Ridgely, of the theatre troupe Waterwell, has unearthed four of them—all composed principally by Loesser between 1944 and 1945—and will mount them Jan. 6-11, on the hangar deck of the Intrepid. Ridgely spent months hunting down the scripts from various libraries and combining them into a full-length compilation. Much of the story will come from “P.F.C. Mary Brown,” written in 1944 for the newly formed Women’s Army Corps, in which the goddess Athena descends from Mt. Olympus to enlist as a private. The Broadway actors Laura Osnes and Will Swenson will lead a cast of thirty-four, consisting of both civilians and military performers, whom Ridgely found through veterans’ groups by way of Army Entertainment, the modern-day equivalent of Special Services. They’ll be joined by a fourteen-piece jazz orchestra and eleven dancers from the Limón Dance Company, who have reconstructed original Blueprint ballets by the choreographer José Limón.

This will be the first staging of these musicals since 1945—and the first ever for the American public.

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