CEDAR FALLS |The opening night of Cedar Falls Community Theatre's production of "The 1940s Radio Hour" was filled with both familiar music, and even nostalgic radio ads I remember hearing as a young girl in the early 1950s. Though the continual stream of characters wandering on- and off-stage in the opening scene seemed slow and disjointed, once the show introduced music, almost 30 minutes in, everything seemed to click.
The story takes place on Christmas Eve 1942, in what is described as a "seedy little New York radio station" that is recording a broadcast for the troops overseas. In his program notes, director William G. Dawson writes that "during the 1940s, our country was united in fighting the war. Radio shows abounded in order to keep citizen and troop morale high. Everyone had their part in keeping the country going, and our Mutual Manhattan Variety Cavalcade was no exception," as its performers express their confidence that this will be the last Christmas the troops will spend overseas.
Announcer and general manager Clifton Feddington, played by Thomas Reburn, manages to keep his rag-tag company of "day-jobbers" together, as the laughter and toe-tapping abound. In fact, 17-year-old "bobby-soxer" Connie Miller, fresh-off-the-bus from Ogden, Utah, played by the multi-talented Marjorie Gast, executed a tap dance to "Strike Up the Band," that "knocked the audience's socks off."
With her character always moving, and with an expressive face, Gast showed her vocal versatility in numbers such as "Hey Daddy" and "The Five O'Clock Whistle," and in ensembles, including her song-and-dance duet "How About You," with B.J. Gibson, a preppie student at Yale, played by the equally-talented Brian Anthony Langr.
In another twist, when the station's resident "southern belle diva" refuses to sing in an Andrews Sisters take-off of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," Langr has to step in as the third "sister."
In fact, belying the station's portrayal as "seedy," the singers were universally good, with strong musical backgrounds. Johnny Cantone, played by Bryan John McCarty, well-known to area audiences, showed his strength in "Our Love Is Here to Stay" and "I'll Never Smile Again," while Ann Frenna, as the diva, Geneva Lee Brown, wowed on such numbers as "At Last" and "I Got It Bad."
The hilarious, gum-chewing and scene-stealing Ginger Brooks, played by Kim Sittig, always in character, had to remove her gum each time she sang or talked. In addition to her impressive vocals in songs such as "My Mama Done Told Me" Sittig, delivered one of the most sensual Eskimo Pie commercials the audience had ever heard.
Ann Collier, a secretary by day, with the station since it began in 1936, is played by Ashley M. Rogers, whose renditions of "Old Black Magic" and "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," were flawless. In his first theatre gig since high school, James Kenyon plays Neal Tilden, who steps to the plate to sing "Blue Moon" when another singer fails to report for work. Rounding out the vocalists are Dan Meier, as the delivery boy Wally Fergusson, waiting for his big chance, and Weston Kuchenberg, as Biff Baker, who has enlisted and will be leaving the next day for the war. He is also a trumpet soloist in the on-stage band.
Backing up all this vocal talent were the incredible piano skills of Michael Conrad as Zoot Doubleman, leading the excellent on-stage band, perfectly balanced with the vocalists.
Even the show's "commercials" show the country's dedication to the war effort as we learn, among other "facts," that quantities of the popular laxative, "Sal Hepatica," are limited because "the boys over there need the best." And, one of the funniest scenes of the evening was the Feddington Players' condensed version of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," with sound effects by Lou Cohn, who runs the show, played by Eric Bertch.
Celebrate the holiday season with the studio audience and see "The 1940s Radio Hour" Friday through Sunday at the Oster Regent Theatre.