BWW Review: Creative Cauldron's ON AIR at ArtSpace Falls Church
There have been many inventors and pioneers throughout history, but few may know of the Frank Conrad, known as the Sleepless Genius. Conrad paved the way for radio broadcasting by hosting radio programs from his garage and contributed to technological advancements as an engineer for Westinghouse. Frank Conrad's life is the focus of Creative Cauldron's new musical On Air, which is part of the "Bold New Works for Intimate Stages" project. On Air, directed by Matt Conner and Gregory Smith, broadcasts the love story between Frank Conrad (Jimmy Mavrikes) and Flora Conrad (Nora Palka) from the perspective of Flora being interviewed by a KDKA radio personality (Robert Aubry Davis) on the radio station's 30th anniversary. Throughout the musical, Flora reflects on everything from the Conrads' relationships with their neighbors Dr. Harry P. Davis (Garrett Matthews) and his wife, Agnes Davis (Erin Granfield) to raising their son, Francis Conrad (Owen Thiebert). Creative Cauldron's On Air needs tinkering with its storyline and songs in order to broadcast its message loud and clear.
The small cast, led by Palka and Mavrikes, are able to work with the characters and songs well. Palka brings out Flora's boldness and brashness as she is often telling Frank that he needs to "live out loud" and is campaigning for the women's right to vote. Mavrikes' Frank is a timid intellectual who is often working intensely on his radio in the garage into the wee hours of the night. Whenever Palka and Mavrikes are onstage together, their quips as a married couple are energetic and entertaining especially in scenes in which Flora tries to get Frank's focused attention away from his radio. Throughout the production, Robert Aubry Davis, who is a real-life radio personality, serves as the radio voice. The radio voice along with Flora serves as the narrator throughout the musical. It is fun to hear Robert Aubry Davis take on quirky commercials which are mixed in during transitions. The cast does a good job with the songs in On Air. The best songs within this musical focus on the Conrads. The song, "A Little Further Now," features Mavrikes and Thiebert singing about of all things - radios and rockets. "Gather Together" is a fun song featuring the Conrads singing during their family music time on a Friday night. The most standout song, "Talk to Me," is a solo by Palka.
While the On Air cast works with what they have, there are certain aspects of this musical which prevent it from being its best. There is a lot going on in this musical with the transformative events of the 1920's and the Conrads working tirelessly on their radio programs. There often scenes which don't really add to the storyline such as a long Election Night scene and Flora's phone calls with Agnes Davis. In addition, most of the songs, such as "What Else Is New" and "I Wouldn't Wish It," don't assist with the storyline and often feel like distractions. Matt Conner and Stephen Gregory Smith need to streamline the musical's plot and songs in order to focus more on the theme of progress and the Conrads.
Despite the need for streamlining, the production's design and lighting design add nice touches to the scenes. The set, designed by Margie Jervis, doesn't just house a garage. It also houses an enclosed radio studio which is where Robert Aubry Davis spends much of the production. The garage is laid out in a way which allows the cast to be able to dance, but still allows room for interesting props such as old radio equipment. The lighting, designed by Lynn Joslin, centers on old fashioned light bulbs hung overhead in the garage.
Creative Cauldron's On Air, like Frank's inventions, needs some innovative thinking to get it to where it should be. Let's just say they need to go a "little bit further" to get the musical to "live out loud."
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission
ON AIR runs at the ArtSpace Falls Church - 410 S Maple Ave, Falls Church, VA - through May 26, 2019. Tickets can be purchased online.