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Monday, 29 November 1999 19:00

The 1940's Radio Hour

Written by Chris Gibson
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Washington University's Performing Arts Department

Through 10/14/2007
Reviewed by Chris Gibson
As a person who happens to love 40's era swing music, and as a collector of the vintage radio broadcasts of comedians like Jack Benny and Fred Allen, I found myself completely delighted with the Washington University Performing Arts Departments production of The 1940's Radio Hour. It's a marvelous trip back in time to the days of live radio during World War II.

Arrive a bit early to the Edison Theatre and you're likely to be surprised by the action already taking place on the set of radio station WOV. Actors playing technicians and performers arriving for the evening's show mill about and fuss with equipment. It's a nice effect and when the lights go down you're already sucked in to the action that's occurring.

Walter Jones script places the action in the Algonquin Room of the Hotel Astor in New York. It's December 21, 1942 and WOV is presenting the Mutual of Manhattan "Variety Cavalcade". But the balladeer isn't going to make it tonight so there's a tussle about who is going to fill in. There's also an eager delivery boy ready to step into the fray and a member of the troupe who's joined the service and is making this his final show before departure. Adding to the intrigue is crooner Johnny Cantone's boozy behavior and empty threats about running off to Hollywood.

Reynolds Whalen does fine work as egocentric singer, Johnny Cantone. Though he was a bit shaky vocally at the beginning of "Our Love is Here to Stay", he acquitted himself nicely with a smooth cover of "I'll Never Smile Again". Vivacious chanteuse Ginger Brooks is played with sultry appeal by Kaylin Boosalis. She smolders on her rendition of "Blues in the Night" and during her description of eating an Eskimo pie.

Ben Walsh is appealing as the overeager delivery boy, Wally. Antonio Rodriguez is amusing as the resident comedian and wannabe balladeer, Neal Tilden. He shines comically singing "Blue Moon", and acting as Scrooge in the group's truncated and hilarious take on Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Jake Levin-Sisson is strong as B.J.Gibson, next in line to take Johnny's place. His version of "You Got to My Head" was smartly performed and warmly received.

Julia Mancini plays Ann Collier and wows with her covers of "That Old Black Magic" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas". Elizabeth Birkenmeier adds spunk and a pretty voice as singer Connie Miller. She also does a nice job on the pig-latin lyrics of the tune "Daddy". David Weiss gives fussy station manager/announcer Clifton Feddington just the right attitude. His commercial readings for laxatives and other products are a straight-faced riot.

Cat Crowder keeps the group together, directing, choreographing and doing live sound effects for the show as Lou. Lisa Campbell-Albert's work on piano as bandleader, Zoot Doubleman is exceptional. The musicians are a talented group as well and provide a nice tight sound.

Bill Whitaker's solid direction is executed with style by this able group of actors and musicians. The harmonies are tight and the action is brisk. The feel of the era comes through in Mike Loui's wonderful set design and in Bonnie Kruger's period costumes. Sean Savoie's lighting scheme is also very effective at creating a different mood for each musical number.

Performed without an intermission, the show is a splendid evening's entertainment, especially for the nostalgically inclined who are looking for something with a little more swing. The 1940's Radio Hour continues through October 14th [2007] at the Edison Theatre on the campus of Washington University. Call 314-935-6543 for more information.

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