The 1940’s Radio Hour depicts the December 21st, 1942 broadcast of the NYC based weekly variety show. We as the studio audience are invited to applaud and cheer when necessary as all the backstage drama and on stage performances unfold right before our eyes.
As with any variety show, the performers are a rather eclectic group, though full of talent and personality, it’s still a rather odd mix. There’s Johnny Cantone (David Bryant Johnson), a seasoned crooner whose outward arrogance conceals an aging desperation, and Ann Collier (Lauren Shealy), an earnest performer no longer able to hide her frustration with boyfriend Johnny’s shameless womanizing. Then there’s cute little Connie Miller (Julia Perrotta), the talented but naïve waif from Utah who, though in love with equally innocent, rising star B.J. Gibson (Matthew Dailey), remains star-struck and smitten with Johnny.
Add to the mix Geneva Lee Browne (Gayle Turner) – a celebrated diva, Wally Ferguson (Matt LaFontaine) – a young delivery boy pleading for a chance, Lou Cohn (Joseph Bearss) – the ever haranguing stage manager, Neal Tilden (Ben Dicke) – cab driver by day, performer by night, Ginger Brooks (Shannan Steele) – a bombshell prone to lose any inhibitions at the mic, Pops Bailey (Bill Berry) – the gruff stage doorkeeper, Biff Baker (Joey Revier) – a talented musician on the eve of leaving to fight in World War 2, and Clifton Feddington (John Arp) – the frazzled announcer and general manager tasked with keeping his dysfunctional team of radio personalities together. Their easy camaraderie, rivalries, and repartee provide much of the show’s charm.
When the time finally arrives for the “show” to begin, each performer is exceptional. David Nehls, who also plays the shows band leader, Zoot Doubleman, does a fantastic job of keeping the breathless pace, swinging to the era’s jazz styling. Each harmony, every note flows from stage with an energy and fire that audience members can’t help but feel.
Standouts include both of Shealy’s solo numbers “Black Magic” and “Have Yourself A Merry Christmas”. Shealy’s voice is magical, it moves effortlessly from note to note.
The duet between Perrotta and Dailey, “How About You”, captures the joy of a couple swooning over one another.
Turner, playing Geneva Lee Browne, is absolutely mesmerizing during her performance of “I Got it Bad”.
If you’re looking for a song that will buckle your knees and cause you to roll down to the floor in a fit of laughter leave it to Dicke, his “Blue Moon” finds the delicate balance that borders slapstick but never goes too far. And despite never having a solo number of his own, be sure to watch the background as Stanley (Daniel Shevlin) bumbles around the control booth throughout the duration of the show, creating moments that are quite hysterical.
As with any radio broadcast, the receiver’s tuning must be exactly correlated to the frequency in order to pick up a clear signal. With Bev Newcomb-Madden at the helm, The Arvada Center seems to flawlessly find the right frequency. Not only do they recreate the feeling of a period, but they also manage to make that distant era feel familiar to even those of us born long after that time. The 1940’s Radio Hour stands as a timeless highlight of the holiday season. See it now through December 23, 2011
See below for a small taste of what’s in store, if you spend your holiday season with the wild cast and crew of “The Mutual Manhattan Variety Cavalcade.”
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