By Dale King
If you’re searching for a slice of holiday entertainment that’s sweet as a Christmas cookie, smooth as a glass of eggnog and nutty as the proverbial fruitcake, The 1940s Radio Hour is colorfully packaged and ready to regale you at the Delray Beach Playhouse through this weekend.
This engaging production created by Walton Jones includes a variety of World War II and Christmas songs. It takes place in the disorganized studio of fictional radio station WOV in Manhattan. The performance opens on the night of Dec. 21, 1942, as the crew prepares for the 9 p.m. broadcast that is being recorded for troops overseas.
The 1940s Radio Hour isn’t a war relic. It opened in 1980, winning a Theatre World Award that year, and it was nominated for six Drama Desk honors. The musical runs about 90 minutes with no intermission.
The cast features some of Delray’s best regulars along with newcomers and a couple of high school students from G-Star School of the Arts. It’s an elegant ensemble with talents sufficient to please the full house.
The first act is mostly non-musical setup, with characters entering the tiny studio on a snowy New York night. In the process, they display their quirks: a trumpet player (Biff Baker, played by Hayden Lamb) who has enlisted in the military and is playing in his final show; an alcoholic Frank Sinatra-style crooner (Johnny Cantone, played by Jim Tyminski) who wants to go to Hollywood; the show producer, emcee and star (Clifton Feddington, played by Rick Prada); a crusty, old-time radio guy who makes racing wagers on the station’s phone (Pops Bailey, played delightfully by Robert Feldman) and a klutzy delivery boy (Wally Ferguson, played by Dominic Geragi) who begs to get his big break.
In the second act (there is no break), the show really coalesces as performers begin broadcasting “live.” The singers are backed by a terrific six-piece band led by Toni Stamos and includes Ron Nordwall, Tom Leon, Dave Kroll, Branden Stair and Hayden Lamb.
Old-fashioned microphones, “applause” and “on-air” signs give the stage the feel of a real radio show and also allow the audience to interact as if they were attending an actual live broadcast.
Feddington kicks off strongly with a smooth rendition of “I Got a Gal in Kalamazoo.” Ann Collier (Diane Tyminski, wife of Jim) smolders on “That Old Black Magic” and adds a melancholy air to “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
Geneva Lee (Kaylee Cooper) shows off a powerhouse voice with a jazzy rendition of “It Had to Be You” and then joins with B.J. (Cole Rusin) for a Big Band version of “How About You?”
Johnny Cantone, with drink firmly in hand, is in full crooner mode as he plucks the flower from his lapel and tosses it to an audience member. As he warbles tunes like “Our Love Is Here to Stay” and “I’ll Never Smile Again,” he gets progressively drunker and finally tells the audience he’s going to leave the show and go to Hollywood to star in movies. But when the broadcast is over, he says to Feddington, “See you tomorrow.”
The gang gathers in lots of laughs with 1940s-era radio commercials for Pepsi-Cola, Chiquita Bananas, Cashmere Bouquet soap and Sal Hepatica, a popular laxative of that era, a product whose results just seems to create their own humor.
The cast even gathers around the microphones to present Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which ends abruptly when Feddington says, “Tune in next time for the conclusion.”
Director Randolph DelLago has decreed that lots of things will happen on the stage. Movement is constant. People walk around reading war-era copies of Life magazine and Pops is always taking calls on a dial-up pay phone or the studio phone.
As the older broadcast man with radio in his blood, Pops is naturally the last one to leave. Feldman portrays him sometimes with comic appeal and at other times in a wistful manner.
Steve Taliaferro excellently portrays Lou Cohn, a studio executive – or so it seems — who tries to impress the girls. He also runs the show and is the sound effects man.
Spensyr Bach and Rachel O’Hara round out the female contingent, O’Hara as Ginger Brooks, a waitress-turned-singer who adds a ditzy blonde element to the crew and Bach as Bonnie Hutton, whose elegant vocals have been heard before on the DBP stage in Annie Get Your Gun and And the World Goes ’Round.
The 1940s Radio Hour plays through Dec. 16 at the Delray Beach Playhouse, 950 NW 9th St. (Lake Shore Drive), Delray Beach. Tickets may be purchased online at delraybeachplayhouse.com or by calling 561-272-1281.