What could possibly be entertaining about watching a group of entertainers put on a radio show set in 1940's America?
“The 1940's Radio Hour” currently at the Pennsylvania Playhouse takes the audience back to the days when “entertainment” was more than just CGI or the latest vlog on Youtube. From the moment you step into the lobby of the theater one is surrounded by both the warmth of holiday decorations and posters from the era reminding you to “Buy War Bonds For Victory!” The audience then becomes the “audience” for New York station WOV's “Cavalcade of Stars” - a variety show featuring crooners, comedians, stage crew and even a delivery boy from the nearby delicatessen. Once the actual show begins – complete with “on the air” lights and a flashing “applause” sign – “The 1940's Radio Hour” shifts into high gear and delights with songs, dances, comedy routines and hilarious commercials.
The atmosphere created by the cast is upbeat and jovial as they do everything they can entertain their “live studio audience” and the multitudes of listeners at home and overseas serving in the war. Everyone in the cast has the chance to perform in their own sequence and each person brings much talent to the microphone stand.
The show consists of several familiar tunes from the 1940's including “Blue Moon,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “Black Magic” and “I'll Be Seeing You.” The solo performances are perfection and the ensemble numbers are just as wonderful to listen to. Nobody in this production has a weak moment. Nobody hits a wrong note. Even the unexpected eruption of a Coca Cola bottle is handled as if it had been rehearsed since day one. Such is the cohesion and skill of the “stars” of the show – who truly shine in this performance.
I would single out some highlights but there is no one number or routine better than another. The comedy routines are funny and full of zaniness, the musical numbers completely enjoyable, the sixteen piece orchestra steals the show on more than one occasion, and even the commercials are so carefully recreated that if you close your eyes you could believe you were listening to a radio broadcast from World War II.
The ensemble features John Bracali, Mark Breiner, Sally Collins, Deborah D'Haiti, Michelle Hubbard, Kyle Hummer, Lucille Kincaid, Hunter Lewis, Dominick Phillip, Nelson Rabenold, Ted Rewak, Brian Richichi, Vanessa Ruggiero, and Kris Swanson.
Musical director Lucille Kincaid surrounds herself with a very talented pit orchestra which is on stage as the “studio orchestra.” Hint: don't linger in the lobby during intermission or you might miss their wonderful medley of 1940's tunes before the second act begins.
The set by Brett Oliveira is as detail oriented as his lighting design. The first thing which grabs your attention upon entering the theater is the black and white checkerboard floor which draws you into the details of the studio and upwards to the “on the air” and “applause” lights – although the “applause” light is sort of useless as the audience applauded without any encouragement.
The costumes by Todd Burkel showcase the glamour and refinement which was the era of the 1940's, with ladies in lovely gowns and the gentlemen in formal suits (even if one of the suits is a bit of a bold, but appropriate, choice).
I wish the show had incorporated more dancing but the dance numbers choreographed by Vanessa Ruggiero do add charm to an already charming production.
My only criticism (which is no fault to this production and more because of the script) is that the pre-show and post-show scenes are not nearly as engaging as the on air show itself. Once the show goes “on the air” is when “The 1940's Radio Hour” feels as if it is in full gear. Fortunately, after the Cavalcade of Stars starts to weave their magic you may forget the “behind the scenes” and focus on the enjoyable holiday show director Beth Breiner and her cast and crew have brought to life. “The 1940's Radio Hour” is filled with music, humor and sentimentality. It is a delightful holiday treat for anyone who wants to escape from the hectic world of iPhones, iTunes, IMAX and enjoy an evening back in 1942 that will definitely make you want to pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag!
“The 1940's Radio Hour” now showing through December 18th. Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm. For tickets call 610-865-6665 or visit www.paplayhouse.org