Retro Review: 1940s RADIO HOUR Transports Audiences Back to a Yule of Yesteryear at Theatre in the Square

Posted on: Dec 20th, 2011 By:

 

By Jordan Barbeau
Contributing Writer

THE 1940s RADIO HOUR; Theatre in the Square; Dec. 17, 2011-Jan. 1, 2012; please note: all performances are at Southern Polytechnic State University – Joe Mack Wilson Student Center; tickets here.

Possibly more so than any other time period, the 1940s were an incredible example of beauty amongst chaos. As World War II raged on across the sea, Americans on the home front did their best to keep up the morale of the citizens through various mediums. One such medium, used to entertain, inform and advertise, was the radio.

THE 1940s RADIO HOUR, written by Walton Jones and directed by Susan Reid at Marietta’s Theatre in the Square, focuses on a New York radio station in December 1942. The play opens as a group of people (including singers, musicians, workers at the station, etc.) are frantically preparing for an hour-long radio show they are about to perform. When everything comes together, the ensuing hour, full of music and commercials alike, is a brilliant, faithful throwback to the time it is emulating.

To begin, a confession is in order: before attending the production, I was a bit skeptical of the content. A recreation of a 1940s radio hour did not seem like the most interesting plot for a play, but I will be the first to admit that this could not be farther from the truth. Produced by Theatre in the Square and running through Jan. 1, THE 1940s RADIO HOUR is not only an excellent musical, it is an excellent representation of the ‘40s.

Jeff Jackson in THE 1940s Radio Hour, now playing at Theatre in the Square. Photo credit: Seamus Bourne

The most important part of any musical is, of course, the music. THE 1940s RADIO HOUR boasts an impressive soundtrack that is very faithful to its source time, ranging from famous ‘40s songs such as “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” to holiday classics like “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” The performers were in top condition; everyone from Johnny Cantone (played by Maxim Gukham), the man with the velvety-smooth voice, to Ginger Brooks (played by Jessica Miesel), the comically high-pitched, wannabe pin-up girl, wowed in their own unique ways.

Authenticity can often suffer in productions based on different time periods, the time period itself taking a back seat to the performances. This was not the case with RADIO HOUR; before the play even began, looking at the stage as I walked into the auditorium, I felt as if I had stepped back in time. The set’s Christmas theme was overshadowed by the attention paid to recreating the 1940s, with everything from the furniture to the telephones looking authentic.

One of the most impressive aspects of the production was its cohesiveness. From the second it began to the second the lights went out at the end, the show did not stop; there was no changing of scenes, no intermission, nothing. The dynamic set contributed greatly to the show’s easy accessibility to audiences, as the lack of constant scene changes and set changes made the show extremely easy to follow and very enjoyable.

Left to Right: Drew Arthur, Jessica Miesel and Anna Kimmell. Photo credit: Seamus Bourne.

While it may seem an odd topic to point out in a musical, my personal favorite parts of THE 1940s RADIO HOUR were the commercials that separated the songs being performed. The play did an impeccable job at recreating how commercials were done back in the ‘40s, such as how sound effects were made either by mouth or by various random items. These short breaks in the show not only provide some enjoyable comic relief (an advertisement for a laxative coming to mind), but also provided a very interesting, real look on the differences and similarities between commercials then and now.

THE 1940s RADIO HOUR is an incredible production that even non-theater fans will enjoy. It is simple to follow, the songs performed are authentic and enjoyable, the actors are likeable and charismatic, and the attention to detail paid to recreating a lost time is painstaking. THE 1940s RADIO HOUR is not only a fantastic Christmas play, it is a fantastic play in general and should not be passed up.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Joanna Schmink Finds the Right Fit for Atlanta Opera’s PORGY & BESS

Posted on: Feb 23rd, 2011 By:

It’s Monday morning before opening night for the Atlanta Opera‘s PORGY & BESS, George Gershwin’s self-dubbed “American folk opera” about a disabled beggar who falls head over heels for a tough guy dockworker’s girl in Catfish Row, a Charleston, South Carolina gullah community. To say that the Atlanta Opera’s costume shop is busy would be an understatement. Seated at a big work table, Stitcher Brett Parker pins and bastes a chorus member’s circa 1930s purple dress. Across from him, Synithia Cochran, First Hand, makes final adjustments to a pink frock. On another surface to the side, Patricia McMahon, Costume Shop Manager, irons a red satin bodice yet to be attached to a dress for leading lady Laquita Mitchell, who plays Bess. And costume assistant Michele Kennedy adjusts a suit on a cloth dressmaker form.

Supervising the whole shebang is Costume Coordinator Joanna Schmink, who has worked with the Atlanta Opera for 18 seasons. For PORGY & BESS, most of the wardrobe were rented as a package from the Houston Grand Opera. Director Larry Marshall had played dope peddler Sportin’ Life in that company’s 1995 PORGY & BESS production and really liked the look, says red-headed Schmink, casually dressed in an airy black and white top and jeans, pointing to several racks in an adjoining room. The clothes on them are a mixture of vintage and more contemporary that resembles a ’30s look sufficiently from stage, all labeled to indicate the character or chorus member who will wear them. The availability of all these costumes in one batch in many ways made the job easier for the five-person costume team, but it certainly didn’t mean there wasn’t plenty to do. For example, when the lot arrived at the start of January, Schmink discovered that all of the Bess dresses looked too worn for use and had to be recreated.

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