Play takes audience back to the 1940sOKOBOJI, Iowa — World War II nostalgia takes center stage at Okoboji Theatre this week as hit tunes of the 1940s, highlighted in a show biz musical, “The 1940’s Radio Hour,” lead us down memory lane.
By: Katherine Hedeen, Worthington Daily Globe
OKOBOJI, Iowa — World War II nostalgia takes center stage at Okoboji Theatre this week as hit tunes of the 1940s, highlighted in a show biz musical, “The 1940’s Radio Hour,” lead us down memory lane.
I had almost forgotten about the way radio shows were put together in those years before television, depending entirely on voices and sound effects. Imagination filled in, since — except for posters, magazines and movies — one might never know what the radio stars looked like or what kind of scene was set for the performance.
A very short first act previews what is about to happen during “Radio Hour.” In December 1942, a local New York radio station, WOV, is preparing to record a Christmas show for later broadcast to troops overseas. The activity level becomes frenzied as the manager (played by Rob Doyen), assistants and crew race to be ready for air time. The playwright’s purpose seems to be to introduce the various personalities and to reveal behind-the-scenes confusion. Okoboji’s audience serves as the studio audience, a play-within-a-play. This brief act becomes dull and exasperating to watch.
Forget Act One and concentrate on the much longer, much better second act, which starts off lively and quickly turns out to be fun, packed as it is with about 20 favorite tunes of the war-time era.
Playwright Walton Jones’ characters are mostly stock figures: harried guys in charge of WOV station, the male vocalist who drinks too much, fellows competing for the attentions of the women performers, the female singer who is always late, and delivery boy awaiting his big break.
Doyen, Adam Branson, Fritz Lennon, Matt Weiss, Colleen Grate, along with others in the large energetic cast, fill their roles well, often fleshing out the characters into real people while singing and dancing with pleasing results. A nice touch is added when several of the men singers caress the microphone in Sinatra fashion.
Musical director Tom Andes, on piano, leads a first-rate combo of trumpet, trombone, string bass and percussion. Lamby Hedge directs and choreographs with flair.
The smart and attractively-lit set creates a radio station of the period, including a grand piano and “on the air” and “applause” signs. Costumes look good, although my companion found the soldier’s uniform (for the one and only service man on stage) inaccurate: wrong pants and hat with a mix of officer and enlisted attire.
Interruptions of the music for commercials, smoothly voiced by Doyen, are funny, quite different from today’s TV ads.
It’s interesting to note that these OST performers are much too young to have been familiar with these songs, while a majority of the audience probably remembers the words to “I’ll Never Smile Again,” “That Old Black Magic,” “Blue Moon,” “You Go To My Head,” “Strike Up the Band” and more.
A favorite part of the show for me, in keeping with the Christmas theme, was a very condensed version of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” performed on radio, Doyen and Branson handling the lines, Weiss and assistant, in a humorous sequence, producing sound effects: rattling of chains, creaking of doors, chiming of clocks.
“Radio Hour” continues with its ’40s music through Sunday.