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August 7, 2008

Dick Van Dyke and the Vantastix release CD

Malibu Times (CA):

Anyone of a certain age who hears the whistled, opening bars of the old "Dick Van Dyke Show" can probably finish the riff, immediately recalling the visual of Van Dyke tumbling over an ottoman as he steps through the front door in the opening credit sequence. It was part of the populist, cultural zeitgeist of the '60s.

But perhaps a little known fact is that Morey Amsterdam, Van Dyke's co-star on the show, put words to the tune. The lyrics to the "Theme from the Dick Van Dyke Show" and many others, can be found on the new a cappella CD, "Put On a Happy Face," by Dick Van Dyke and The Vantastix, a group composed of Van Dyke and three West Coast musicians, Bryan Chadima, Eric Bradley and Mike Mendyke.

"I ran into Dick one day at Starbucks in Cross Creek mall," Mendyke, a former NASA engineer who also has a degree in music, said. "We started talking music and before you knew it, we would meet up to kick some ideas around Dick's piano, have some pizza and work on tunes.

"We developed a medley of songs with Dick and first performed for the wrap party of his TV show, 'Diagnosis Murder,'" Mendyke said. "We started getting requests to appear at all kinds of events and then Dick said he was open to the idea of producing an album. I told Bryan Chadima, one of our group, to go do a cappella arrangements of all Dick's songs now."

The group's CD, recorded and mixed at Chadima's Venice studio, has 12 songs familiar to Van Dyke's fans, from "Mary Poppins" favorite "Supercalifragilisticexpialic-odious" to the eponymous "Put on a Happy Face," from Broadway's "Bye Bye Birdie." All are sung in perfectly blended a cappella arrangements, with no instrumental backing.

"We also have a couple of bonus holiday songs," Mendyke said. "One was completely off-the-cuff. I threw a copy of the old Christmas poem, "A Night Before Christmas" into the recording booth and asked Dick to read it. He did. It was perfect. We put together an arrangement of Christmas tunes behind it and there you go."

Arranging for the group presents its challenges. Mendyke described the process: "It's kind of funny. Bryan is a tenor, so we always know what to do with him. But Dick, Eric and I are all basses, so we have to be creative. Normally Dick is on lead, Eric is on baritone and I'm on bass. Sometimes, if Eric or I have a melody line, the other one sings bass and Dick gets whatever note is left. If Dick is singing bass, as he does on 'Lover's Question,' then Eric and I are both signing falsetto tenor parts while Bryan signs lead. Confused yet?"

Mendyke concluded, "While it's always a thrill to sing backup for Dick, imagine how we feel when Dick Van Dyke sings backup for us!"

Van Dyke is equally complementary to his band mates. "They're all highly trained musicians and I get such a kick out of working with them," he said. "You don't hear much a cappella singing these days, particularly with jazz arrangements, and Bryan's such a good arranger. I would like to see this album get people used to hearing harmony again."

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Dick has been a customer of Primarily A Cappella for many years and Mike has told me that it was after reading a post of mine, when Dick first bought something from us, is how he learnt Dick was fan of a cappella. That's why he approached Dick in Starbucks was to share his love of the music form. Serendipity can be a wonderful thing! Oh yes and how fabulous does Dick look for 82! Coincidentally we just watched Chitty Chitty Bang Bang while on vacation and I am so absolutely a fan of Mr Van Dyke. He is an American Treasure.

Posted by acapnews at August 7, 2008 12:11 AM

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