BWW Reviews: Arvada Center's THE 1940'S RADIO HOUR - Tune In!
The Arvada Center tunes in to THE 1940s RADIO HOUR for the holidays. This variety play with music (not sure whether this one can be categorized a musical?) centers around the pre on-air calamities of one frosty night at New York’s WOV studio as they broadcast the Mutual Manhattan Variety Cavalcade on December 21, 1942.
"It works perfectly...you just gotta know how to handle it" describes this show in a nutshell. This is the third time the Arvada Center has put on Walton Jones’s variety play, and is their first production of this “play with music” since 2004. The reason I’m reluctant to classify it as an official “musical” is because musical numbers don’t really show up until the end of Act I. From that point on, a wonderful array of 1940s era big band music is offered up, but it feels more like like a variety show true to 1940s form and style than a Christmas themed radio broadcast. And while the music and dancing are delightful, the plot and spotty script seemed to bog things down and left me with some unanswered questions. Fortunately, the show was redeemed through the great singing (thanks to musical director David Nehls), dance numbers (thanks to choreographer Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck), and those hilarious old-time radio commercials complete with sound effects.
So, there are some bumpy parts in the show, but it’s a nice touch having the cast busily preparing for the Mutual Manhattan Variety Cavalcade radio broadcast while the audience is being seated. The cast is filled with archetypal 40s story style characters – the earnest announcer, the harried general manager, the sexy “it girl,” the Sinatra wannabe – and each performer does a nice job filling the holes in the script. Joseph Bearss as big-shot Lou Cohn and Shannan Steele as sexy singer Ginger Brooks reprise their roles from productions past and do a superb job sitting in their characters’ skins with comfortable familiarity. Julia Perotta once again steals the show (having played the adorable Penny Pingleton in Hairspray) as whimsical young Connie Miller. She has that girlish, wide-eyed cuteness down to a T and is fun to watch onstage. Likewise, her counterpart BJ Gibson (Matthew Dailey) has that innocent boy charm and his singing voice is remarkable. Judging by the way he handles a mic, John Arp, as stressed-out station manager Clifton Feddington, simply had to have had a job in radio at some point in his career. He exudes harried confidence, and the (now vintage) radio commercials and Christmas Carol skit are simply fun (Joseph Bearss certainly gets a workout). Gayle Turner has some amazing pipes and brings everything she’s got to the role of diva Geneva Lee Browne. Grumpy with a heart of gold Pops Bailey (played ably by Bill Berry) keeps up the sometimes sagging pace by bringing much needed humor. Adding some atmosphere, and true to old-time radio show productions, there is a live band onstage whose members interact with the audience throughout. Music director David Nehls gets to have some fun in his role as
band leader Zoot Doubleman.
Director Bev Newcomb-Madden must be commended for keeping this show true to the time era. From the fine WWII era details in the set, to the authentic wardrobe (shoulder pads and pressed slacks!) and fabulous up-do and slicked back hairstyles, everything screams ‘40s. Scenic designer Brian Malgrave must have had a field day putting together WOV’s sound set, and the touch of snow at the back of the set (an implied street) adds nice depth and wintery atmosphere.
Even with a choppy script and incomplete plotline, the Arvada Center company pulls it together and offers some superb singing and dancing with this production. So, ladies and gents, put on your zoot suits and convertible attire, sweep up your hair (or slick it back) and head to the show! THE 1940s RADIO HOUR will be serenading audiences at the Arvada Center through December 23rd. For tickets or information, contact the box office at 720-898-7200 or online at www.arvadacenter.org.
PHOTO CREDIT: P. SWITZER
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