Regional Reviews: Phoenix
It's December 21, 1942, in New York City and it's just minutes until the airtime of the live radio broadcast "The Mutual Manhattan Variety Cavalcade" on WOV Radio. As the play begins, the cast of the show make their way into the studio from the snowy and cold weather outside. Tempers flare and shenanigans ensue in the backstage area as preparations are finalized for the live hour-long broadcast that features some beloved American songbook tunes, comedy bits, and even a few fun live commercials.
The 1940's Radio Hour features a large group of characters, and director Gary Caswell has assembled a talented cast who deliver winning performances. While a few of the singing voices are just OK, which is the only downside I see in this production, everyone creates unique characters and they form a tight ensemble with their fellow castmates. Caswell's direction creates a fun and frantic environment and also ensures the cast remain true to the style of the 1940s in their characterizations, which beautifully evokes the nostalgic charm of the period.
Jeff Huffman is very good as the frazzled general manager of the station who also serves as the radio broadcast's announcer, while Frank Aaron is charming as Pops, the show's doorman who also takes bets over the radio station's phone on the side. Harold LeBoyer is excellent as the show's sound effects man. The women in the cast include Rebecca Whaley, who is good as the show's main female vocalist Ann Collier; Molly Jisa, who exhibits a perfect vacant air as the bubble-headed Ginger Brooks; BreAwna Harpe, who is both quick-witted and sultry as blues singer Geneva Lee Brown; and Becca Webb, who is simply adorable as the youngster in the group, the Coca-Cola swigging, bobbysoxer Connie Miller.
The men include Alex Gonzales, who is appropriately cocky and slightly sad as star singer Johnny, who keeps drinking throughout the broadcast and claims he's heading to Hollywood the next day. As Neal Tilden, Sam Johnson's expert comic timing and clowning abilities get big laughs and his solo of "Blue Moon" is superbly done. Cameron Swindler delivers a charming solo of "You Go to My Head" as B.J Gibson, and George Piccininni is funny as the eager, young delivery boy Wally Ferguson, who yearns to be in front of the microphone.
Other highlights include Jisa's sultry "Eskimo Pie" commercial and her bluesy "Blues in the Night" as well as the group numbers "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" and "Strike Up the Band," which features a fun tap dance by Webb and Swindler. (Harpe and Webb provide the spirited choreography in the show.) Many other familiar tunes populate the show, including "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "Kalamazoo," and "Strike Up the Band." There are several humorous commercials as well as a hilarious abridged version of "A Christmas Carol."
Caswell's set design evokes a charming old-time radio studio with a few Christmas lights and decorations to set the time of year, while Corinne Hawkins' costumes and the period make-up and hair styles beautifully suggest the 1940s. The two-piece band, with Joe Boussard on piano and Phil Paski on drums, delivers expert accompaniment in a big band style under Boussard's keen music direction.
While the plot of The 1940's Radio Hour may be slight, there isn't a shortage of music, comedy and joy in Don Bluth Front Row Theatre's charming and winning, period-perfect production that lovingly takes you back to the bygone days of the '40s.
The 1940's Radio Hour, through November 24, 2018, at the Don Bluth Front Row Theatre, at 8670 E. Shea Boulevard, Suite 103, Scottsdale AZ. For more information on this production or to order tickets, go to www.donbluthfrontrowtheatre.com or call 480-314-0841.
Directed by Gary