December 21, 1942— the final holiday broadcast of the Mutual Manhattan Variety Cavalcade on New York’s WOV radio station. The gang’s all here and the only thing missing is you, but you can fix this problem by coming to see the Dundalk Community Theatre’s production The 1940’s Radio Hour. The quintessential swinging feel good musical, this production has dancing, singing, and an all-round good time for everyone as the cast explores the internal workings of a radio broadcast in front of a live studio audience.
Scenic Designer Marc W. Smith transports the audience from modern times straight back into this happening broadcasting studio with his period appropriate design work. A gleaming sea blue wall paint with the live studio orchestra situated on stage really gets the cast into the swing of things, but the magic is in the continual snowfall that dusts outside the main window for the duration of the show.
Directed by James Hunnicutt, the production is a bit sluggish in the first act. The pell-mell chaos of getting the characters together and prepared to go live has a slightly sloppy feel to it and it takes a while to really grab the audience’s attention. But once they get going after the intermission the whole show just comes together with smooth flow of jazzy goodness, really getting the audience into the holiday feeling.
Hunnicutt doubles as the show’s choreographer and his work does not go unappreciated in the snazzy little swing numbers that BJ and Connie dance during “Five O’Clock Whistle.” Having that extra pizzazz of dance enables the characters to really have fun with what they’re doing. And the subtle but fun and flirty routine designed for “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” puts a little bounce in everyone’s bubble.
The real treat is having Zoot Doubleman (Tim Viets) and the Zoot Doubleman Orchestra right on stage in their fancy dress blacks. You get this gorgeous augmented sound when they play, drifting right up over the performers and out to the audience so that it doesn’t overpower the singers while still sounding amazing. Viets takes up the clarinet and starts noodling pure aural gold for the intro to “Ain’t She Sweet.” And keep an ear out for the trombone solo from Jay Ellis during “I’ll Never Smile Again,” because it’s simply gorgeous.
Despite the slow non-musical start, the first act gives the actors a chance to establish their characters to the audience. We see the spastic nature of Cliff (Albert J. Boeren) and the ditzy blonde notions of Ginger, all of which carry through the duration of the show with solid consistency. The cast does an exceptional job of crafting these quirky characters— each uniquely their own— and giving them a reason to be well-loved and thoroughly enjoyed by the audience.
It’s the little characters that get us going, like Pops (Ralph Welsh) and the sing-from-home contest winners Bess (Kristen Cooley) and Myrtle (Cheryl Vourvoulas). Welsh plays into the stereotype of the peculiar old man with his laughable quirks while Cooley and Vourvoulas are two batty homemakers with that star-struck sense of awe, both just happy to be there. These little moments of comedy that are crafted amongst them weave together into the overall story arch; acting like a comedic thread to connect the musical numbers.
The femme fatales show up as a foursome, each of the fantastic ladies having a distinctive voice and personality. They all sing together in “Chiquita Banana” bringing the harmonious sound of many voices singing as one. Ann (Molly Doyle) slides with ease into “Black Magic” her breathy rendition adding a sensual feeling to the number. Doyle gets a second solo later in the show in “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” and it’s deeply moving, warming the cockles of my heart with true Christmas spirit.
Geneva (Rikkie Howie) is the other powerhouse voice from the femme four. Howie’s voice is distinct and can be easily identified in the group numbers but she shines with soulful emotion in “I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good.” Her portrayal of the character blends the perfect balance of diva and attitude without creating a cliché prima donna, and her voice in “Stormy Weather” justifies that slight edgy attitude.
But the girl to take note of is Ginger (Lauren Everd). A little silly, a little classy, and a whole lot of fun, Everd takes blonde bombshell to a whole new meaning. The girl can sing and dance with the best of them but it’s her crazy character that really gets the audience rolling. Everd’s shenanigans with the gum are hysterical— see if you can count how many times she sticks it to the side of the microphone— and her overall nature is charming with a touch of comedy. But she belts it out in “Blues In The Night” backed by the boys to give her a show-stealing number.
Everd duets with Connie (Amy Greco) for “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and introduces a third talent into the mix, BJ (Will Poxon). Proving to have the most versatile vocal range, Poxon jumps soprano for this number and jives right along with the girls in the fast-footed number. His voice blends into the lower ranges for the group numbers and he switches on the schmoozy charm for “You Go To My Head” becoming a young heartthrob as he croons at the audience. His duet with Greco in “How About You” lets the audience hear the operatic side of his talents, making him the show’s vocal MVP.
Crooning isn’t reserved just for BJ but for the vocal ‘star’ of the show Johnny Cantone (Joey Hellman). His stiff character cracks wise and portrays drunk just like you’d expect from a 40’s lounger. Hellman melts the audience with “Love Is Here To Stay” those pure dulcet tones ringing with vibrato from his smooth melodious voice. His character’s candor is as transparent as the studio’s window so when he snubs out at the end it’s no real surprise.
And although it isn’t exactly crooning, Neal (Henry Reisinger Jr.) captured the hearts and the laughs of the audience during “Blue Moon” as he attempted to fumble his way through the sweet ballad. Reisinger portrays a series of complex characters, comedy deployed into each one. His Mexican outburst in “Jingle Bells” is uproarious and when he flips accents for the various commercial ad spots the whole audience is one laugh short of rolling in the aisles. Reisinger is a true glazed ham yucking up the character for all its worth. His sense of comedic timing is keen and his sincerity shines through the laughs. And on top of it all he’s a song and dance man; a passionate pistol that drives the show.
Don’t miss that final broadcast on WOV for the holidays. It’s a doozy if ever there was one!
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 15 minutes, with one intermission.
The 1940’s Radio Hour plays through March 3, 2013 at The John Ravekes Theatre- Building K, on the Community College of Baltimore County Dundalk Campus— 7200 Sollers Point Road, in Dundalk, MD. For tickets call the box office at (443) 840-2787, or purchase them online.