The 1940’s Radio Hour by Walton Jones returns to Theatre in the Square for its 30th Anniversary Season, and it doesn’t disappoint. With incredible talent (including new and returning cast members), smart staging and an entertaining script, the show makes a triumphant return and reminds us why the show was presented every year for the first 25 years of Theatre in the Square’s existence.
Director Susan Reid has crafted a quick-paced, action-packed show. Funny and moving, the musical depicts a radio broadcast during December of 1942 by WOV, a radio station in New York City. The players are introduced and each deals with the fact that one member wants to leave for Hollywood in addition to other internal struggles – all while putting on a live radio broadcast.
Set designer Seamus M. Bourne and Props Designer Kathleen Parish, have crafted what feels like a true 1940’s era radio station studio, complete with a working Coca-Cola machine of the era. During the course of the show, the audience becomes a cast member by being the studio audience and gets to provide applause when the applause light brightens. Throughout the broadcast, audience members are treated to familiar songs such as “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
The authentic costumes by Linda Patterson are stunning, especially the costumes for Ann (Mary Nye Bennett) and B.J. (Greg Bosworth) which make the characters look as though they stepped out of a classic movie. The design for Ann’s hair, make-up and dress combined with Bennett’s natural beauty, transform the actress into a Hollywood starlet that Betty Grable herself might have been jealous of.
What makes the cast members’ performances particularly amazing isn’t as much as what they do while the spot light is on but the subtle actions that take place off to the side during the songs of other cast members. Just as what might happen on an actual radio stage, so much action takes place non-verbally. Much of the show’s plot is revealed without dialogue through the ways the characters react to their situations.
As Ginger, Jessica Miesel plays the blond bombshell perfectly, drawing much laughter with several of hers line. As the closest thing to an antagonist in the musical, Maxim Gukhman as Johnny displays the persona of the handsome crooner with eyes for Hollywood well. Even with his gruff exterior, he charms the audience with his ballads.
Although the entire cast is worthy of praise, two performers are standouts: Bennett and Drew Archer who plays Wally. Heartbroken and visibly tearing, Bennett draws empathy from the crowd while belting out her song with convicting emotion. Archer, on the hand, plays the bumbling and excited Wally without skipping a beat. His joy and enthusiasm are infectious. There isn’t a moment in the show when his wide eyes and smile leave his face. His antics performing sound effects during the broadcast’s performance of A Christmas Carol are a highlight of the show.
The 1940’s Radio Hour, produced by Theatre in the Square, plays at Southern Polytechnic State University’s Joe Mack Wilson Student Center through January 1, 2012. For tickets, directions and more information please visit Theatre in the Square’s website. The show lasts approximately 90 minutes without an intermission.
– A. Wesley