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11 Broadway Musicals Featuring Characters in the U.S. Military

Not only have the men and women of the United States Armed Forces served their country, they have also served as inspiration for the Great White Way.

1. Carmelina (1979)

This was the story of a single mother who told everyone in her small Italian town that the father of her teenage daughter was an American soldier who died heroically in battle during WWII. In reality, she had affairs with three different GI's, all of whom were still very much alive and one of whom was the real father. She's forced to face the truth when the entire American battalion returns to her village for a reunion. If that story sounds familiar, that's because it was based on the same story that would later inspire international musical phenomenon Mamma Mia.

2. Let's Face It! (1941 – 1943)

Despite the escalation of WWII, Cole Porter's forgettable Let's Face It! asked its men in uniform to serve as gigolos. Three wives are convinced their husbands go on so-called "camping trips" to commit adultery. In attempt to make their men jealous, they invite a trio of young GI's for a weekend at one of their Hamptons summer homes. While the young privates are willing, their girlfriends are not so pleased. So, the girlfriends decide to get their own revenge and seduce the husbands – who are actually just camping.

3. Bye Bye Birdie (1960 – 1961, first run)

In 1958, Elvis Presley was drafted. Bye Bye Birdie was a tongue-in-cheek response to the hysteria that ensued. After learning fictional crooner Conrad Birdie has been drafted, his handlers decide to capitalize on the situation. They bang out a new single for him entitled "One Last Kiss," and select a random small town teenager to be his "one last kiss" before he goes off to the army.

4. The Lieutenant (1975)

A rock opera about the My Lai massacre in Vietnam that opened on Broadway weeks before the fall os Saigon was, perhaps, a little too soon. It closed 7 days after it opened and has not seen any major revivals since. Despite its brief run, The Lieutenant still managed to snag 4 Tony nominations.

5. White Christmas (2009)

Though released as a film in 1954, Irving Berlin's White Christmas did not make it to Broadway until 2009. But without the army, there would be no White Christmas. Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye's characters meet in the army during WWII, developing a song-and-dance routine that would make them famous after their service. Kaye uses an injury he sustained while saving Crosby's life to bribe him into going to a New England inn with some cute sisters. They discover their former general owns the inn and it is for the financial benefit of this retired general that they put on a Christmas extravaganza that includes the song "Gee I Wish I Was Back in the Army."

6. The Civil War (1999)

Inspired by the likes of Frederick Douglass, Walt Whitman, President Lincoln, and Ken Burns, the creator of The Civil War decided the people of this time period needed a musical treatment. This included both Union Soldiers and Confederates. It also featured song-accompanied combat, such as the First Battle of Bull Run. The bloody body count at the end of the show did not resonate with theatergoers, and the show closed after 2 months.

7. Miss Saigon (1991 – 2001)

By 1991, American audiences were ready to see a musical about the Vietnam conflict. A young U.S. marine falls in love with a 17-year-old Vietnamese prostitute only to be forced out of her arms in order to flee Vietnam. He leaves young Kim behind with a broken heart and a baby on the way. He returns to Vietnam to find his new child, but the encroaching Viet Cong spells imminent disaster.

8. Hair (1968 – 1972)

A musical about a bunch of hippies living on the streets, taking hallucinogenic drugs, getting completely naked, and growing their hair "long as they could show it" actually had everything to do with the army. This motley crew was made up of anti-Vietnam draft-dodgers. The message of peace, love, and counterculture was not enough to keep main character Claude from ultimately answering the draft, cutting his hair, joining the army, and then dying in battle.

9. On the Town (1944 – 1946)

Three American sailors unload at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for their 24-hour shore leave. Let loose in the Big Apple, they find adventure, love, and frequent occasions to break into songs like "New York, New York." But even a musical as exuberant as On the Town ends on a somber note when the men must return to their ship and set sail into the uncertain future of a world at war.

10. South Pacific (1949 – 1954)

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Tales of the South Pacific, this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic told the story of a naval station on an island in the South Pacific. The restless sailors stationed there lust after a mystical island full of kept women known as Bali Ha'i. A naïve Naval nurse wrestles with the racial prejudices instilled in her by a conservative upbringing. All the while, WWII rages on and the Navy must eventually face the imminent threat of Japanese convoys.

11. This Is the Army (1942)

Commissioned to entertain the army during WWI, mega-composer Irving Berlin wrote the musical Yip! Yip! Yaphank! The show never made it to Broadway, remaining a hit among military personnel only. Then, during WWII, Berlin decided to update his old musical and take it to Broadway to raise money for the military. With the blessing of the army, he titled it This Is the Army and gathered an all-military cast. It was so popular that the show went on tour throughout the U.S. and overseas. It was then made into a film starring a young Lieutenant by the name of Ronald Reagan.

For 11-11-11, we'll be posting twenty-four '11 lists' throughout the day. Check back 11 minutes after every hour for the latest installment, or see them all here.

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15 Things You Might Not Know About Chewbacca
ANTONIN THUILLIER, AFP/Getty Images
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Even if you don't know the name Peter Mayhew, you surely know about Chewbacca—the seven-foot tall Wookiee he has played onscreen for over three decades. In honor of Mayhew’s birthday, here are 15 things you might not know about Han Solo's BFF.

1. HE WAS INSPIRED BY GEORGE LUCAS'S DOG.

The character of Chewbacca was inspired by George Lucas’s big, hairy Alaskan malamute, Indiana. According to Lucas, the dog would always sit in the passenger seat of his car like a copilot, and people would confuse the dog for an actual person. And in case you're wondering: yes, that same dog was also the inspiration behind the name of one of Lucas’s other creations, Indiana Jones.

2. HIS NAME IS OF RUSSIAN ORIGIN.

The name “Chewbacca” was derived from the Russian word Sobaka (собака), meaning “dog.” The term “Wookiee” came from voice actor Terry McGovern; when he was doing voiceover tracks for Lucas's directorial debut, THX 1138, McGovern randomly improvised the line, “I think I just ran over a Wookiee” during one of the sessions.

3. HE'S REALLY, REALLY OLD.

In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Chewbacca is 200 years old.

4. PETER MAYHEW'S HEIGHT HELPED HIM LAND THE ROLE.

Peter Mayhew
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Mayhew was chosen to play everyone’s favorite Wookiee primarily because of his tremendous height: He's 7 feet 3 inches tall.

5. HIS SUIT IS MADE FROM A MIX OF ANIMAL HAIRS, AND EVENTUALLY INCLUDED A COOLING SYSTEM.

For the original trilogy (and the infamous holiday special), the Chewbacca costume was made with a combination of real yak and rabbit hair knitted into a base of mohair. A slightly altered original Chewie costume was used in 1999's The Phantom Menace for the Wookiee senator character Yarua, and a new costume used during Episode III included a specially made water-cooling system so that Mayhew could wear the suit for long periods of time and not be overheated.

6. ONE OF STANLEY KUBRICK'S CLOSEST CREATORS DESIGNED THE COSTUME.

Chewbacca's costume
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To create the original costume for Chewbacca, Lucas hired legendary makeup supervisor Stuart Freeborn, who was recruited because of his work on the apes in the “Dawn of Man” sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Freeborn had also previously worked with Kubrick on Dr. Strangelove to effectively disguise Peter Sellers in each of his three roles in that film.) Freeborn would go on to supervise the creation of Yoda in The Empire Strike Back and Jabba the Hutt and the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi.

Lucas originally wanted Freeborn’s costume for Chewie to be a combination of a monkey, a dog, and a cat. According to Freeborn, the biggest problem during production with the costume was with Mayhew’s eyes. The actor’s body heat in the mask caused his face to detach from the costume's eyes and made them look separate from the mask.

7. FINDING CHEWBACCA'S VOICE WAS BEN BURTT'S FIRST ASSIGNMENT.

The first sound effect that director George Lucas hired now-legendary sound designer Ben Burtt for on Star Wars was Chewbacca’s voice (this was all the way back during the script stage). During the year of preliminary sound recording, Burtt principally used the vocalization of a black bear named Tarik from Happy Hollow Zoo in San Jose, California for Chewbacca. He would eventually synchronize those sounds with further walrus, lion, and badger vocalizations for the complete voice. The name of the language Chewbacca speaks came to be known in the Star Wars universe as “Shyriiwook.”

8. ROGER EBERT WAS NOT A FAN.

Roger Ebert was not a fan of the big guy. In his 1997 review of the Special Edition of The Empire Strikes Back, Ebert basically called Chewbacca the worst character in the series. “This character was thrown into the first film as window dressing, was never thought through, and as a result has been saddled with one facial expression and one mournful yelp," the famed critic wrote. "Much more could have been done. How can you be a space pilot and not be able to communicate in any meaningful way? Does Han Solo really understand Chewie's monotonous noises? Do they have long chats sometimes? Never mind.”

9. HE WAS ORIGINALLY MUCH MORE SCANTILY CLAD.

In the summary for Lucas’s second draft (dated January 28, 1975, when the film was called “Adventures of the Starkiller, Episode I: The Star Wars”), Chewbacca is described as “an eight-foot tall, savage-looking creature resembling a huge gray bushbaby-monkey with fierce ‘baboon’-like fangs. His large yellow eyes dominate a fur-covered face … [and] over his matted, furry body he wears two chrome bandoliers, a flak jacket painted in a bizarre camouflage pattern, brown cloth shorts, and little else.”

10. HIS DESIGN WAS BASED ON RALPH MCQUARRIE'S CONCEPT ART.

Chewbacca’s character design was based on concept art drawn by Ralph McQuarrie. Lucas had originally given McQuarrie a photo of a lemur for inspiration, and McQuarrie proceeded to draw the character as a female—but Chewbacca was soon changed to a male. McQuarrie based his furry design on an illustration by artist John Schoenherr, which was commissioned for Game of Thrones scribe George R.R. Martin’s short story “And Seven Times Never Kill a Man.” Sharp-eyed Chewbacca fans will recognize that Schoenherr’s drawing even includes what resembles the Wookiee’s signature weapon, the Bowcaster.

11. HE WON A LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD.

Fans were angry for decades that Chewie didn’t receive a medal of valor like Luke and Han did at the end of A New Hope, so MTV gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 MTV Movie Awards. The medal was given to Mayhew—decked out in full costume—by Princess Leia herself, actress Carrie Fisher. His acceptance speech, made entirely in Wookiee grunts, lasted 16 seconds. When asked why Chewbacca didn’t receive a medal at the end of the first film, Lucas explained, “Medals really don’t mean much to Wookiees. They don’t really put too much credence in them. They have different kinds of ceremonies.”

12. HE HAS A FAMILY BACK HOME.

According to the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, Chewbacca had a wife named Mallatobuck, a son named Lumpawaroo (a.k.a. “Lumpy”), and a father named Attichitcuk (aka “Itchy”). In the special, Chewie and Han visit the Wookiee home planet of Kashyyyk to celebrate “Life Day,” a celebration of the Wookiee home planet’s diverse ecosystem. The special featured appearances and musical numbers by Jefferson Starship, Diahann Carroll, Art Carney, Harvey Korman, and Bea Arthur, and marked the first appearance of Boba Fett. Lucas hated the special so much that he limited its availability following its original airdate on November 17, 1978.

13. MAYHEW'S BIG FEET ARE WHAT KICKSTARTED HIS CAREER.

Mayhew’s path to playing Chewbacca began with a string of lucky breaks—and his big feet. A local London reporter was doing a story on people with big feet and happened to profile Mayhew. A movie producer saw the article and cast him—in an uncredited role—as Minoton the minotaur in the film Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. One of the makeup men on Sinbad was also working on the Wookiee costume with Stuart Freeborn for Star Wars and suggested to the producers that they screen test Mayhew. The rest is Wookiee history.

14. MAYHEW KEPT HIS DAY JOB WHILE SHOOTING STAR WARS.

Peter Mayhew
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During the shooting of Star Wars, Mayhew kept working his day job as a deputy head porter in a London hospital. Though he was let go because of his sudden varying shooting schedule at Elstree Studios, he was eventually hired back after production wrapped.

15. DARTH VADER COULD HAVE BEEN CHEWBACCA.

Darth Vader
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David Prowse, the 6’5” actor who ended up portraying Darth Vader—in costume only—originally turned down the role of Chewbacca.  When given the choice between portraying the two characters, Prowse said, “I turned down the role of Chewbacca at once. I know that people remember villains longer than heroes. At the time I didn’t know I’d be wearing a mask, and throughout production I thought Vader’s voice would be mine.”

Additional Sources: Star Wars DVD special features
The Making of Star Wars: The definitive Story Behind the Original Film, J.W. Rinzler

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