The sisters' togetherness started to fray in the early 50s, providing juicy grist for gossip columnists. Patty went solo in 1953, and her sisters read about it in the paper. Patty sued Laverne over their deceased parents' estate. Maxene took an overdose of sleeping pills. Patty went ballistic when Laverne and Maxene appeared on the Red Skelton show with the comic masquerading as the youngest sister.
Gilleland, who has six siblings, can appreciate the squabbling.
"A family is both a wonderful and an awful thing," she said, laughing.
The History Theatre script takes on the question of how it is to live, breathe and perform with one another for all those years.
It's amusing when those same dynamics rise between the Baldwin sisters. In an interview, they bantered about Christina singing lead as Patty. As a contralto, she said, she's used to the lower parts.
"But in opera, you sing mezzo," said Jennifer quickly, pointing at Christina as though she's made this point several times with her younger sister.
Only siblings would correct each other like that with a reporter present.
The Andrews Sisters reunited in 1956 but never returned to their zenith. Laverne died at 56 in 1967. In 1974, Maxene and Patty did a Broadway show called "Over Here," which capitalized on their war-heroine images. Critically praised and commercially successful, the show closed before going on tour because the sisters demanded more money. Each continued singing intermittently thereafter.
Maxene was 79 when she died in 1995. Patty, 84, lives in California.
A joy to rehearse
Peluso talked by phone about the show with Wally Weschler, Patty's husband and manager who was the group's piano player and arranger in the late 40s. Weschler showed little interest and seemed overly protective of his wife.
"It's too bad," Peluso said, "because I think she'd enjoy this piece. There's a joyousness about what they did in their music."
That became readily evident when the Baldwin sisters and Long dug into "Dinah" during a recent rehearsal. Their voices swayed in a tight harmony, each vocal nuance like filigree on an elegant package.
"It's really a thick sound," Baldwin-Fletcher said. So thick, in fact, that Peden, who sings Maxene's tight harmonies with her sister, has on occasion stopped during rehearsals to ask music director Raymond Berg if she's slipped into the melody.
And Long, after nine months as soprano Eliza Doolittle in Chanhassen's "My Fair Lady," is stretching herself to handle Laverne's lower range.
"As Norah, I want to be Patty," Long admitted.
Who wouldn't? Instead of the winsome lead vocalist, she is the quieter sister who passed glory onto the others.
"I wondered if Laverne wanted to be who she was?" she said.
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