BWW Review: 1940's Radio Hour at The Central New York Playhouse
Syracuse's Central New York Playhouse latest show is 1940's Radio Hour, written by Walton Jones and featuring various hit songs of the 1940s. Directed by Patricia Catchouny with musical direction by Abel Searor, 1940's Radio Hour transports us to December 1942 - the final holiday broadcast of the Mutual Manhattan Variety Cavalcade on New York City radio station WOV.
We're introduced to the various people working and performing at the radio station. First, there is Clifton A. Feddington (Matthew Green), the announcer and producer of the radio show. Then there's Johnny Cantone (Eric Feldstein), the featured vocalist on WOV's Cavalcade. He's a smooth singer, but is rough around the edges and drinks too much. Cantone is looking to leave the radio show to pursue an acting career and Neal (Christopher James) is hoping to step into his role. Neal has been part of the Cavalcade since before it was conceived.
Other performers on the radio station include Ann Collier (Leila Dean), a very talented and versatile singer that has been with the show for six years, and the wide-eyed Connie Miller (Hali Greenhouse) - the youngest of the bunch. There's also newcomer BJ Gibson (Josh Harris), the spunky singing waitress Ginger Brooks (Jackie Bleich), and Geneva Lee Browne (Martikah Williams) a jazz singer who performs nightly with her group at The Onyx Club. Rounding out the group are Pops (Phil Brady), Stanley (Dan Randall), Wally (Rich Bocek), Lou (Keith Arlington), Biff (Nic MacLane), and Zoot (musical director Abel Searor).
The musical, as written, can very easily entertain audiences. However, on the night that I saw the show, the comedic lines did not land and the pacing was off. There was also a lack of chemistry among some of the actors and a few amateur vocal performances.
Act I consists of thirty minutes of getting to know the individual characters as they are getting ready to perform the holiday broadcast. It opens with all the various characters arriving or performing tasks at the station or and that goes on for quite awhile without dialogue. This has the potential to be entertaining, but unfortunately it was very dull apart from a few strong acting moments.
For instance, Matthew Green as Clifton opens the show with a confident announcer voice and he stays in character perfectly throughout the evening. Christopher James delivers an entertaining entrance as Neal; he has the right comedic timing. Keith Arlington is engaging and confident as Lou. Jackie Bleich, as Ginger, makes the most of the spotlight as she enters. Her confident and spunky personality is present throughout the show. Leila Dean delivers killer facial expressions and reacts to everything; she is a definite standout as Ann Collier.
Act II features all the 1940's musical numbers, which theoretically provide the perfect opportunity for the actors to show off their vocal chops and personalities. There were a few strong musical moments but - on the night I saw the show - some of the performances were not on point. Sound troubles also plagued the performance. The main speakers cut out and the audience was only able to hear the vocals through stage monitors, so that may have been one reason for some of the less positively memorable performances.
Let's focus on the best musical moments. Hali Greenhouse delivered a charming performance of "Daddy," displaying a cute smile. Eric Feldstein as Johnny, though hard to hear, sang "Love is Here to Stay" with confidence. Jackie Bleich delivered a very comedic rendition of "Blues in the Night," and certainly made the most of her time in the spotlight showing off her personality, vocal skills, and ability to stay in character even when breaking the fourth wall. Leila Dean stole the show with her vocals on "That Old Black Magic" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Her clear and well projected vocals were easy to hear even with the sound issues. She is a very adaptable performer. Christopher James, as Neal, displayed a knack for comedy on "Blue Moon" as he is teased by the other performers. The commercial songs such as "Pepsi Cola" and "Chiquita Banana" were entertaining moments as well. The full company numbers "Chattanoga Choo Choo," "Jingle Bells," "Strike Up the Band," and "I'll Be Seeing You" were also highlights.
The onstage band under the musical direction of Abel Searor as Zoot was also entertaining as they played the music and reacted in character to the actors' performances. Unfortunately, I often found myself more entertained by the band's reactions and facial expressions than some of the principal actors.
The production features a creative set design by Patricia Catchouny. Constructed by Christopher James Lupia, it makes the most of the space. The costumes by Barb Toman and Kate Kisselstein were fitting for the 1940s. They helped defined the various characters personalities, which was helpful since not all of the actors were able to define their characters very well with their actual performances.
1940's Radio Hour has the potential to be non-stop entertainment, featuring fabulous character acting, and stellar vocals on some classic 1940s tunes. However, for the reasons described above, this production was very mediocre and disappointing even if there were a few enjoyable performances.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and five minutes with one twenty minute intermission.
1940's Radio Hour runs through December 16, 2017 at The Central New York Playhouse. For tickets and information on this production and upcoming ones at the Central New York Playhouse, click here.