Let me say from the get-go, I’m not the ideal person to review “The 1940s Radio Hour,” which opened Friday at the Los Alamos Little Theatre. This isn’t the sort of play I would normally choose. Just as when I’m left scratching my head while my family rolls on the floor during a sit-com and look on mystified as friends lap up sugar-coated nostalgia pieces, I was the odd man out Friday. The show was joyously received by a full house, who gave the production a standing ovation. I know many people will enjoy this show a lot, and the 20 person cast works hard to make it so.
“The 1940’s Radio Hour” by Walton Jones has been popular since it was first presented at the St. James Theatre Oct. 7, 1979. The play portrays the final Christmas broadcast of the Mutual Manhattan Variety Cavalcade on the New York radio station WOV in Dec., 1942. It’s chock full of great music from the 1940s like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, Blue Moon and Strike Up The Band.
The LALT production captures the feel of a radio station in the ‘40s with a great set designed by director Laurie Tomlinson and Spook Kellum. The flashing applause sign (the real audience is standing in for the studio audience), realistic looking period microphones and other touches bring us right into the era. The great costuming by Pam Justice and Joy Drake and hair design by Linda Taylor are spot on. There’s even a program for the radio show with bios of the fictional characters — fun!
The show is a light comedy with stereotypic characters, cavorting in a fun fashion. My favorite gags were the period commercials for products like Pepsi, Chiquita Bananas, and Nash autos.
The characters are directly out of a 1940s movie—the drunken heart throb singer, the femme fatale, the wise elderly gentleman, the diva, the fresh-faced ingénue from the sticks, etc. Unfortunately, there is no emotional depth to any of the characters. It’s not the fault of the actors, there’s little here to work with. Even soldier boy Biff (Bruce Lettilier), the trumpeter who’s off to war the following day, evokes no real emotion from his co-workers.
Speaking of the musicians, the onstage band, led by Zootie Doubleman (Gretchen Amstutz, who is also the show’s musical director) is one of the highlights of the show. They do a nice job with the swing tunes. My favorite musical pieces were the harmonized group numbers, which blended the voices creamily.
The band occasionally overpowers the singers, but I suspect this will be worked out in future shows. Another thing that needs to be worked out is the volume level of the plants in the back row who simulate the most exuberant members of the studio audience. They are way too loud for anyone in the back half of the theatre.
The cast does their best with the card-board characters. John Cullinan as Emcee Clifton Feddington is just right, and has a great radio voice! Patrick Webb is a standout as comedian and wanna-be singer Neil Tilden. Joy Reynolds as Ginger Brooks does a good imitation of Marilyn Monroe as the steamy sex pot. Nora Cullinan is fun as the soda guzzling ingénue Connie Miller and Stuart Rupprecht backs her up well as the young crooner B. J. Gibson. In smaller roles, Larry Gibbons shines as Pops Baily and Fred Berl as Lou Cohn captures his character well.
This show will appeal especially to those who enjoy music from the ’40s and sit-com style humor. It’s a fun night at the theatre for all ages.
“The 1940s Radio Hour continues at 7:30 p.m. today, Nov. 11, 12, 18 and 19 and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 13 at the Los Alamos Little Theatre Performing Arts Center, 1670 Nectar St. Tickets are $14/adults and $12/students and seniors They are available online at Brown Paper Tickets or at CB Fox and at the door.