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The Dress Circle: Songs from Shows about the Military for Memorial Day

During the World Wars in which our country was involved, many songs and theatrical events were created to help promote morale as well as raise necessary funds to facilitate the country’s needs. Since it’s Memorial Day weekend, we thought we’d look at a few of the musicals that were written about the military experience on this week’s Dress Circle (5/26 7:00 p.m.) from Irving Berlin’s “Yip Yip Yaphank” written during World War I to Harold Rome’s “Call Me Mister” which looked at the repatriation of soldiers returning home to their civilian lives to the nostalgia of the war era in shows like “Over Here!” and “Ankles Aweigh.” 

Irving Berlin, who seemingly penned more patriotic music than anyone else, wrote two of these shows. The first was “Yip Yip Yaphank” which raised funds for servicemen and their families at Camp Upton in New York. They wanted to raise $35,000 to build a community center for the camp, but it was so popular that it raised over $80,000 (in 1918 dollars) for the camp, and true to form, the military never built the center. Berlin wrote “God Bless America” for the show but cut it out from the final product because it was “too sticky.” 

Berlin’s “This Is the Army” was begun in the spring of 1941 before the United States was involved with the proceeds planned to go to the Army Emergency Relief Fund. It opened on Broadway on July 4, 1942 to a record opening night box office and ran for 113 performances, far more than it’s proposed four weeks. It then toured the country and went to Britain. It’s estimated that it raised millions of dollars for the military, but the exact amount was never released to the public. 

Most of these shows talked more about what the soldiers were going through and with what they had to deal, than they did with actual warfare. Remember, these were written to raise morale (and money)! 

There are several lighthearted looks at what the servicepeople went through, but we are still offering up two songs that are a bit poignant: “Going Home Train” from “Call Me Mister” featuring a train car of GI’s finally heading home, and “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” from “South Pacific” about the racism with which many American soldiers had to contend. 

All in all, it’s an hour of music from Broadway about the Armed Services as we remember all those family and friends who served.

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Ted Otten is co-host of The Dress Circle
Michael is program host and host of the WWFM Sunday Opera, Sundays at 3 pm, and co-host of The Dress Circle, Sundays at 7 pm.
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