For years magazines have gone to the bank on seasonal themes. Now local theater companies are doing the same. Walk-Ons' Halloween special at Center Stage - "Irma Vep" - was such a success it will be back next year.
And for Christmas, Theater 138's "The 1940s Radio Hour" is getting to be a bigger local tradition than the movie "It's a Wonderful Life."And with good reason: It's a wonderful show.
The cast is rotated each year to keep the show fresh. Sometimes the new faces improve on the parts, sometimes they don't. This year's may be the best cast assembled yet. The dancers can dance, the singers sing and the actors act.
For those who haven't caught past productions, "Radio Hour" is a theatrical version of a one-hour radio program broadcast - supposedly - on Dec. 21, 1942, from a two-bit station in New York City. There are skits, songs, sound-effects, promos, bromos, bromides and one-liners. There's even some dancing and ad-libbing for the "studio audience."
Playwright Walton Jones weaves a couple of slender plot lines through the array of songs. We get a little unrequited love story, a kind of local-boy-makes good angle and bits and pieces of faltering and flowering relationships.
Michael McGlone, with his praying mantis gestures, flexible face and collection of voices takes the key role this year as station manager and emcee Clifton Feddington. He introduces the various singers, tosses off commercials and - to borrow a line from Hunter Thompson - buzzes about like a "rat in heat" trying to keep all the nuts and bolts twisted together.
There are dozens of songs - ranging from "Our Love Is Here to Stay" and "Old Black Magic" to novelty numbers like "Chiquita Banana" and "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy." The good news is everyone on board can carry a tune. And some - like Mark C. Reis as B.J. and Rebecca Holt as Connie - have a style that seems to come right from the old "Your Hit Parade" program. Both could have been pulled from a 1940 Coca Cola poster.
Kit Anderton plays Tony Cantone - the sleaze-ball crooner - with just the right amount of slime. Matt Clark mugs it up as Neal Tilden. And Jan Smith as Ann Collier probably does the best job of selling a song. "I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good" breaks your heart.
Mary Lee Anderton doesn't quite have the pipes to be a red-hot mama, but she certainly has the moves. Timothy Albrecht is a likable - if somewhat effete - army officer. Stu Falconer (Pops) and Christopher R. Miller (Wally) bring verve to minor roles. Tom Love, as Lou, sidesteps his one singing number, but does contribute some manic moments.
The 12-piece band also hands in a workmanlike performance. Opening night there were a couple of sour notes, but nothing devastating.
Like Woody Allen's movie "Radio Days," this show is a good chance for people over 50 to bask in some nostalgia and memories, and chance for people under 30 to catch a glimpse of the innocence and authenticity of the war years.
Tom Carlin of Theater 138 says he likes the show because it has a Christmas spirit about it without trading on all the tried and true themes of Christmas.
In fact, when Jones wrote it he had no idea that ballroom dancing and the big band sound would be working its way back into vogue by 1988. For such reasons you'd better line up your tickets ahead of time. On opening night a few people were left to cool their heels on the waiting list.