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Three part disharmony

Sisters of Swing tells the story of the Andrews Sisters

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2014-05-06


During their heyday in the 30s and 40s, the Andrews Sisters racked up the kind of sales and chart success that would make The Beatles blush. They were household names, working with many of the popular entertainers of the day and singing for the troops at home and abroad during World War 2. They were featured in films, and of course, they were all over the radio. Even over half-a-century later, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t know “Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy”…

But, in the grand tradition of sibling musical acts, they fought backstage. A lot. “I don’t think many people know how much conflict went on between the sisters,” says Elyse Losen, who plays LaVerne in the Fort Wayne Civic’s production of Sisters of Swing. “You have these cute, upbeat songs, these great harmonies… They’re working with all the big names like Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby, but there were a lot of issues behind the scenes.”

Sisters of Swing, which begins its run at the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre on May 2, tells the story of Patty (Meagan Solloway), LaVerne (Elyse Losen), and Maxene (Jessica Butler) and their sometimes tumultuous life in show business, and features songs from the Andrews Sisters’ extensive hit parade. “It starts when they’re little girls, focuses on them becoming the Andrews Sisters, and then highlights their struggles once they become ‘the Andrews Sisters’,” explains Jessica Butler.

The songs themselves are woven into the drama on stage. Both Butler and Losen site one particular scene set to the song “Near You” as being one of their favorites. “It’s a song about being close to someone,” Butler says. “It’s this… ‘Oh I just love being near you/when we’re apart/I can’t face my heart…’ type of thing. And we’re singing that song as we’re fighting about stealing each other’s clothes and always being with each other.”

It’s a situation that at least one of the actresses can relate to. Elyse Losen (LaVerne) grew up in a musical family, singing with her cousins. Unlike the Andrews Sisters, it wasn’t Losen’s parents that were the motivators behind the scenes, it was her grandmother. “There were 17 first cousins, and she made us into a mini-choir,” laughs Losen, who recently moved to Fort Wayne from Ann Arbor. “So those squabbles about whose part is whose and ‘get off of my note…’ It was all very familiar.”

Losen’s grandmother actually taught Losen and her cousins to sing and harmonize to the Andrews Sisters music when they were growing up. That helped Losen prepare for some of the musical challenges in Sisters of Swing, but re-creating those distinctive Andrews Sisters harmonies isn’t easy. “When there’s only three of you, that makes it really difficult,” she says. “When one person is off, that throws off everything.”

“What the Andrews Sisters were going for was a trumpet sound,” Losen continues. “They really wanted their voices — when they were locked in harmony — to mimic the horn section, and when there’s only one person singing each part, you have to be on 100% of the time, or you lose that sound entirely.”

Jessica Butler rates Sisters of Swing as the most difficult musical she’s ever done. “… and I’ve been in a ton of musicals,” she says. “Each of us have a solo song, or a song where we sing the majority by our self. But we sing 30 some songs, and they’re all different harmonies.”

The part Butler sings — Maxene — is especially tricky. “I’m not singing any melody. I’m either singing above the melody or below the melody. Sometimes it flips in the middle of a song, or sometimes in the middle of a phrase, and so trying to remember… ‘Am I singing above Patty here? Am I singing below Patty here? Which way am I harmonizing?’ It definitely keeps me on my toes.”

When it comes to favorite songs, the cast begs off having to pick just one (though “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy is always given a nod). But one of Butler’s favorites is a lesser known tune called “Dina,” a song that comes towards the beginning of the show, when Patty, Maxene and LaVerne are listening to the radio as young girls, trying to imitate the Boswell Sisters. “Not many people know the song,” Butler says. “But it’s a short, fun song, and it’s one of the few times you actually get to hear us sing a capella.”

The Fort Wayne Civic Theatre presents Sisters of Swing

Arts United Center
303 East Main Street

Friday, May 2 at 8:00 PM
Saturday, May 3 at 2:00 PM — matinee
Saturday, May 3 at 8:00 PM
Sunday, May 4 at 2:00 PM — matinee

Friday, May 9 at 8:00 PM
Saturday, May 10 at 2:00 PM — matinee
Saturday, May 10 at 8:00 PM
Sunday, May 11 at 2:00 PM — matinee


Tickets:

$29 Adults
$24 Sunday Senior Matinees
$17 Age 23 and under

Prices include ArtsTix Box Office fees

For tickets, call (260) 424-5220 or go to fwcivic.org

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