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Exclusive: McKechnie Brings Shermans Over Here

By • West End
As previously tipped (See The Goss, 2 Jun 2006), the Sherman Brothers’ 1940s-set musical comedy Over Here will soon receive its UK premiere, 32 years after it first opened on Broadway. Though a venue and exact dates have yet to be confirmed, the production is on schedule to open in the West End in November with an eclectic 16-strong cast featuring Broadway legend Donna McKechnie, West End stalwarts Diane Langton and Frances Ruffelle and Soapstar Superstar winner Richard Fleeshman (pictured with Ruffelle).

Billed as a “nostalgic journey across World War II America at the height of the big-band era”, Over Here takes place on a cross-country, New York-bound train, on which the DePaul sisters (Langton and McKechnie) are listening out for a third voice to complete an Andrews Sisters-style showbiz trio. Unwittingly, they recruit a Nazi spy named Mitzi (Ruffelle), who weaves top secret codes into the new group’s musical arrangements.

Over Here became a vehicle for two of the real-life Andrews Sisters but - though it was the highest-grossing musical of the 1974 Broadway season and helped launch the careers of then up-and-coming performers Ann Reinking, Treat Williams and John Travolta – it closed after 341 performances owing to a legal dispute. The show’s Forties pastiche music is now little known by comparison with Richard and Robert Sherman’s scores for film classics such as Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

The new production, directed and choreographed by Broadway’s Tony Stevens, will see McKechnie and Langton starring together for the first time - although both were cast in the 1976 London premiere production of A Chorus Line at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. McKechnie was due to reprise her Tony Award-winning performance as Cassie, which she originated on Broadway a year earlier, opposite Langton as Morales but was forced to leave the country when her work permit fell through.

McKechnie’s other credits include Company, On the Town, Promises Promises and State Fair on Broadway and Can Can and No Way to Treat a Lady in the West End. Langton’s other West End credits include A Little Night Music, Stepping Out, Side by Side by Sondheim, Cats, Chicago, Spend Spend Spend, Follies and, most recently, Mary Poppins.

Ruffelle created the role of Eponine in Les Miserables in London and New York, where she won a Tony Award for her performance. Her other West End credits include Chicago, Starlight Express and Children of Eden. Fleeshman is best known as Craig from TV soap Coronation Street, which he’ll be taking a break from to make his professional stage debut in Over Here. The son of theatre actors Sue Jenkins and David Fleeshman, he’s been singing as an amateur since the age of three. Earlier this year, he won the TV singing competition Soapstar Superstar.

Speaking exclusively to Whatsonstage.com today, Frances Ruffelle described her Marlene Dietrich-esque character as “a really good comic role, it’s just such silly fun”. One of the tasks for the 40-year-old actress is to try and seduce the 17-year-old Richard Fleeshman (who plays a soldier on the traine), a prospect he seems to relish as much as making his professional stage debut in the production.

With record deals and other offers on the table after his TV success, Fleeshman explained that Over Here “seemed like the right move, the right direction” for him now. He likes the “feel of the show” and is looking forward to performing in the West End. “It’s pretty exciting, especially to be making my West End debut at 17. Maybe it’s better to do it now because I’m young and not so daunted by it all.”

Over Here is designed by Christopher Hone – whose set will be built around a live 18-piece big band – with lighting by Shane Lomman and musical supervision by David Barber. It’s presented in London by Swingtime One Ltd.

- by Terri Paddock


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