My father asked my mother to marry him during a traffic jam in the Holland Tunnel, and they were married on Easter Morning, 1942. My father was on a Weekend Pass from Fort Indiantown Gap in the Poconos. I grew up hearing stories of NY Radio during the days before television, and as young child learned comedy timing from Fred Allen and Jack Benny phonograph albums. I also grew up with stories about life during wartime.
This all came back to me this holiday season as I enjoyed a delightful and moving theatrical look back at the Christmas of 1942. Marietta’s Theater in the Square continued to celebrate its 30th Season by reviving another one of the plays from the inaugural season of 1981: Walton Jone’s “The 1940s Radio Hour.” This wonderful evening of theater was directed by Susan Reid, with music direction by Michael Monroe.
Set at the independent (and fictional) radio station WOV, based loosely on the independent WOR, the play weaves a number of smaller personal stories through the framework of a variety show radio broadcast before Christmas week. Primarily a musical variety show, “The Mutual Manhattan Variety Cavalcade” is excited to have a representative from one of the national broadcasting networks among the live broadcast and they will have a chance to possibly move their program or their individual careers along. The characters involved with the show inside the show include the production staff, the host Clifton, the singers, and the band. The “Cavalcade” consists of a long string of era songs, and also era commercials recreated with jingles and 1940s appropriate dialogue. The setting is 1942, so the war is not just a consideration, but an offstage character in the play.
The drama in the background includes one young lady with a “going problem” that caused her to leave the stage to use the ladies room frequently, a spat between a young dating couple who were also talented singers, a band members on his way to “The War,” a comedian looking for his big break as a singer, a delivery boy who fills in for a missing cast member, and the sad tale of two older singers struggling to deal with their love despite each being married. The drama is incidental to the period music.
Whenever a musical is staged, the goal is to have great acting and great singing, but occasionally tradeoffs are needed. In this production, the acting is solid and sometimes rises to brilliant, but there is no doubt that the real excellence is the “Cavalcade” of amazing singing voices. Both ensemble pieces and solos songs shine throughout the production. 1940s Radio Hour has a superior musical consistency that is seldom achieved in regional theater. With an adept band and outstanding musical direction, it delivers stellar entertainment value.
The songs will be, for the most, recognizable to a modern audience. The ballads and standards are the songs which have remained in our popular consciousness, such as “That Old Black Magic,” “Blue Moon,” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” One interesting pop culture twist was “My Momma Done Told Me,” which to many is a song sung by a Vulture fighting Bugs Bunny. The original song is used in the play and has less to do with “Bringing home Something for Dinner.”
As part of the consistency, there are no weak performances in the show; however, some of the cast deliver notable and outstanding performances. Drew Archer’s Wally provides comic timing and an authenticity of the age of The Bowery Boys. Jessica Miessel delivers a wonderfully grating NY accent in both her speaking and singing parts that is both flirty and hilarious as Ginger. Maxim Gukhman’ Johnny Cantone pulls the ensemble together around him as the he struggles with his feelings for Ann while preparing himself for the trip to Hollywood to be “In the movies.”
The showstopper is Jeffery Jackson as Biff Baker, the trumpet player doing the show for the last time in his Second Lieutenant’s Uniform.
So, maybe I was influenced by my parents’ tales from that time period. They told me dealing with rationing while listening to Martha Ray. They taught me that Mel Blanc worked more hours on the radio that he did for cartoons, that The Maltese Falcon was a radio play with the original cast, and that some families missed “War of the Worlds” because they were listening to Charlie McCarthy that week. They heard Joe Louis fighting live, and Lowell Thomas reporting from around the world. This world of radio was real to me growing up. Watching 1940s Radio Hour recreated this time and place and brought me closer to my folks, who have left us and won’t be there for Christmas this year, by showing me a Christmas they certainly would have understood.
As a partner piece to Theater in the Square’s Sanders Family Christmas, you cannot go wrong taking the whole family to see “1940s Radio Hour.”
Sanders Family Christmas & The 1940’s Radio Hour
Tues. at 8 pm. …….….$28/$25 (group rate-12 or more*)
Wed. at 8 pm ……..….$28/$25 (group rate-12 or more*)
Wed. at 2:30 pm …….$25/$22 (group rate-12 or more*)-SANDERS ONLY
Thurs. at 8 pm ……….$28/$25 (group rate-12 or more*)
Fri at 8 pm ………..….$31/$28 (group rate-12 or more*)
Sat. at 2:30 pm ………$31/$28 (group rate-12 or more*)-RADIO HOUR ONLY
Sat. at 8 pm .…………$35/(no group discount)
Sun. at 2:30 pm ………$31/$28 ((group rate-12 or more*)