It’s never too early to start celebrating the Christmas holidays, as the shopping malls will tell us here at the end of October, and Silhouette Stages is in agreement as they present The 1940’s Radio Hour as their fall musical. A perfect precursor to this too-early holiday season, the heart-warming musical written by Walton Jones, is ripe with the happening music of the ’40’s and a little sentimentality to touch the cockles of your hearts. Directed by Lisa Ellis and Alex Porter, with Musical Direction by Chris Bagley, it’s a feel-good musical for the whole family to enjoy.
The show has a great concept behind it which is really difficult to execute and maintain the pacing of the show. Both before the “Radio Show” kicks off and after it comes down the actors on the stage are milling about in a sluggish malformed chaos. Directors Alex Porter and Lisa Ellis struggle to keep this part of the show moving and it makes the first 20 minutes or so feel particularly elongated without much substance to it. Once the “Radio Show” portion of the production gets started, however, Porter and Ellis do a decent job of keeping the rolling. There are moments of pause between musical numbers and the advertisement sketches that do stifle things just a bit, as on a radio show you would expect no pauses, but for the most part Porter and Ellis keep the audience with the performers.
Musical Director Chris Bagley, who doubles as the band leader of the Zoot Doubleman Orchestra—playing the piano live on stage—does a fantastic job of coaxing full fleshed out sounds from the performers in this cast. Harmonies in large company numbers like “Kalamazoo,” “Jingle Bells,” and “Strike Up The Band” are solid and clean. Bagley conducts a meticulously organized orchestra, exuding a jumpin’ jivin’ feel out to the audience when they play along behind the swingin’ tunes of the times. Featured soloist Jay Ellis on trombone during “I’ll Never Smile Again” reminds the audience of what it’s like to have that easy smooth sliding glide of a brass instrument backing up a romantic ballad.
Choreographer Tina DeSimone adds a bright flare to the choreographic work of the show with her swing-based routines. Keeping all of the singers on their toes and in constant motion, even the simple jingles like “Pepsi Cola” has snippets of dance routines swaying their bodies to the beat. DeSimone includes an impressive soft-swept tap routine for BJ and Connie’s duet “How About You?” and creates a hilarious routine for Ginger to enact during her song “Blues in the Night,” as she discards the boys one by one. The real feel of the show is that DeSimone’s routines blends to perfection with the swingin’ bouncin’ sound created by the ensemble and the soloists for a really entertaining show.
Sprightly youth Wally Ferguson (Jesse Kinstler) wheedles his way into the ‘Mutual Manhattan Variety Cavalcade’ by being in the right place at the right time. Kinstler is an energetic young performer that really steals his moments in the spotlight. He steals everyone’s thunder during “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” with his snazzy jazzy dancing, and his falsetto in this number really makes it a hoot.
Comedy comes in two-fold when Neal Tilden (David Hill) makes his way onto the scene. His comic delivery for the advertisement bits, particularly the language-diction segment, are executed with panache. Hill even has a junior crooner’s voice, with a sweet and simple approach to his ballad “Blue Moon.” Watch out for his surprise uproarious appearance in “Jingle Bells.”
B.J. (Vince Vuono) and Connie (Emily Biondi) have the sweetest flirtations between one another and carry blissful harmonies in their duet “How About You?” Biondi’s swanky attitude enhances her naturally jazzy sound for “Daddy” and she really engages with the audience in this number. Vuono’s distinctive voice can be plucked out of all the ensemble numbers but he really showcases a passionate energy for “You Go To My Head.”
There are three enormous powerhouse voices in this show, encompassing three incredible characters – Johnny Cantone (James Gross) Geneva Lee Browne (Samantha McEwen) and Ann Collier (Kelly Rardon). This trio of talent really puts the soul and emotion into this production. Gross is practically a Sinatra impersonator with his rendition of “Love Is Here To Stay,” as he croons away and passionately makes sensual gestures with his microphone. His attitude and overall approach to the character is the epitome of a womanizing, charming cad; the perfect representation of a 40’s singing sensation.
McEwen, as the dashing Geneva, is a star bursting with emotional soul. She carries the low range of “Rose of the Rio Grande” with a stunning and powerful belt, as well as hits the high notes in “I Got It Bad” with such a tremendous sound that it’s simply breathtaking. Her snappy attitude when handling the show’s producer is highly amusing, polishing off her character to completeness.
Rardon, taking on the Ann Collier character is a bell in the role. A gentle, albeit too quiet and airy at times, voice for all her solos, Collier sings so sweetly its almost angelic. When performing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” she becomes so lost in the song that you can close your eyes and almost feel the snow falling outside the studio window. Her semi-duet with Gross at the end of the performance, “I’ll Be Seeing You” has a true bittersweet sentiment behind it; a wonderful note on which to close the show.
But what good is a radio show without its host? Clifton A. Feddington (Patrick Mason) runs the show in more ways than one. Mason does an exceptional job of creating the dichotomy of his character’s dual personality; distinguishing between his spastic angry producer self and his charming easy-going radio voice. When Mason is speaking on the radio show his voice is the epitome of a well-versed announcer, with all the delicate nuance of a personality made to be heard. His singing voice is equally impressive, a rich full sound that really carries in numbers like “Kalamazoo.” Mason’s presence on stage is vibrant; catching the attention of all watching, really honing in on important moments and making them stand out to those listening. A stellar performance given by Mason really makes this show worth its weight in gold.
So tune into this spiffy little radio program while there’s still time to catch The 1940’s Radio Hour, because Christmas will be here and gone before you know it!
Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, with one intermission.
The 1940’s Radio Hour plays through November 3, 2013 at Silhouette Stages performing at Slayton House Theatre in Wilde Lake Village Center— 0400 Cross Fox Lane in Columbia, MD. For tickets call the box office at (410) 637-5289, or purchase them online.