The 1940s Radio Hour
Presented by Boiler Room Theatre through Dec. 16 at The Factory at Franklin, 230 Franklin Rd., Franklin
For tickets, call 794-7744
When musical theater rocks, it’s sublime; when it limps, it’s dismal. Yet these are the cumulative effects of viewing the new Boiler Room Theatre production of Walton Jones’ revue-like The 1940s Radio Hour. Jones’ script has an overall bubbly nostalgia to it, there are 20 musical numbers drawn from the Tin Pan Alley catalog (including some timely holiday tunes) and there are talented people in the cast. But there are also problems galore, of a kind that make a guy want to jump out of his seat and holler, “Wait! Let’s fix this before we go on.”
It’s hard to know who the culprit isauthor Jones or director Corbin Greenwhen the play opens with 15 to 20 minutes of somewhat benumbing, almost completely wordless action: the studio setup for a live New York radio show, Dec. 1942. Wherever the blame lies, it’s an interminably frustrating scene, and not as interesting as one assumes it might be. Eventually, the colorful characters who perform on the fictional radio station WOV’s “Mutual Manhattan Variety Cavalcade” start to enter the action, and things become more lively. The rest of the play encompasses the actual performance of the radio programin real time, as it wereand a glimpse, howsoever brief, into the lives and personalities of the principals.
The radio ambience is charming, including sound effects, an onstage band, an all too sober and earnest announcer, and a wacky bunch of musical comedy types. (Cutely, Boiler Room provides a separate program with biographies for the players within the play.) The period setting is well realized, replete with old-fashioned stand-up microphones, argyle sweaters, fedoras, Uncle Sam posters, on-air advertisements for products like Cashmere Bouquet, an old coin-and-crank Coke machine and references to FDR, Walter Winchell and the like. There’s also a logical World War II flavor to the proceedings, which resonates somewhat with current events.
When the cast is singing, the show is very entertaining most of the time. The company numbers“I Got a Gal From Kalamazoo,” “Ain’t She Sweet,” “Jingle Bells,” “Strike Up the Band” and “I’ll Be Seeing You”are excellent, rendered with animation and heart. Nancy Allen and Melinda Doolittle (double-cast with Ella Glasgow) bring professional-caliber voices to solos such as “That Old Black Magic” and “God Bless the Child.” Nancy Whiteheadwho also choreographed the showis welcomely comic throughout. Lewis Kempfer is solid as the unflappable announcer/emcee; John Warren proves he’s a good actor in a mostly thankless role; and Daniel Vincent sings and hoofs with sincerity. Finally, there’s the adorably energetic Victoria Daddario, who takes part in solos, duets and trios (“Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”) and delights with her presence in every moment.
Unfortunately, this production is marred by a distracted sense of directionwhich may or may not have something to do with the fact that 17 bodies share a small stage with musical equipment and the set. Maybe the fact that director Green handles a major roleas a Sinatra-esque song stylisthas something to do with the seeming lack of attention to detail. Whatever it is, the straight scenes are often annoying, and, in the apparent absence of a firm directorial hand, the actors’ instincts only occasionally take up the slack. There’s also the curious case of the clunky Act 1 exit of actors and musicians in half-lighting that makes it altogether unclear whether the curtain has fully rung down.
At the piano, musical director Jamey Green leads the combo of brass, bass and drums. Their work is very goodcertainly professionalthough the arrangements don’t seem as tight nor as inventive generally as they could have been.
There are still plenty of reasons to recommend this show, but you gotta be patient with the results.
Taming the beast
Currently celebrating its 70th season, Nashville Children’s Theatrethe nation’s oldest such organizationcontinues to produce classy work, and the company’s new version of Beauty and the Beast is a wonderful example of how artful production values can breathe new life into a familiar story while entertaining children and adults alike.
Director Scot Copeland crafted this adaptation of Jeanne Marie Le Prince de Beaumont’s original tale, La Belle et la Bête. It’s concise, fluid, retains a good sense of the old French milieu, and neatlyand economicallyinterpolates its narration into the characters’ dialogue. But beyond that, Copeland has marvelously marshaled NCT’s design forces, and their collaborative efforts deliver a play that sparkles in all aspects.
Scott Boyd’s scenery is subtle yet noticeably beautiful, Patricia Taber’s costumes are richly appropriate and Karen Creel’s lighting glitters. Some useful special and sound effects are thrown in for good measure, and the whole production is wrapped in Paul Carrol Binkley’s pleasant, baroque-inspired incidental music.
Sure, it’s a well known fable, and about 10 years ago, we all overdosed on the very popular Disney film and the subsequent stage spin-off. Yet NCT offers us a rendition based more closely on the original tale, and it’s refreshing indeed to experience it quite humanly, without all the animated bells and whistles.
There’s a terrific cast headed up by the appealing Jenny Littleton as Belle, the youngest of three daughters who risks her life for her father, Marchand, who is played with affecting weariness by Buddy Raper. Misty Lewis and Brooke Bryant are delightful as Belle’s self-absorbed sisters, Frivole and Altier, while Brian Webb Russell is very good as the bad-guy lawyer who wreaks havoc with the family’s finances. Bobby Wyckoff is the Beast, torn between toughness and tenderness, his electronically altered voice recalling the ominous tones of Darth Vader.
Special mention needs to be made of Lewis’ original choreography, which adds immeasurably to the production’s overall artistic gloss, but also enhances the action in key scenes. Clad in Taber’s ethereal, gauzy-white bodysuits, Lewis, Bryant and Russell make return appearances to the stage as ghostly apparitions in the Beast’s eerie household. They dance, preen, attend to Belle and otherwise simply infuse Copeland’s stage pictures with grace and a curiously divine spirit.
Seventy years and counting, and NCT still has it all together. How lucky Nashville is to have them.
Nashville Children’s Theatre’s Beauty and the Beast runs through Dec. 19 at NCT’s Hill Theatre, 724 2nd Ave. S. For tickets, call 254-9103.
Boiler Room Theatre recently announced its upcoming 2002 season, which features an interesting mix of more and less familiar musicals, as well as one nonmusical play. The season opens Feb. 1 with the Maltby/Shire homage to parenthood, Baby. The Lynn Ahrens/Stephen Flaherty musical Lucky Stiffa zany romp about a shy shoe salesman and a valuable corpseopens Mar. 22, followed by the ever popular Little Shop of Horrors (May 10). John Guare’s infamous play Six Degrees of Separation then opens June 21. On Aug. 9, the company presents a newly revised version of the spoof McBeth! The Musical, first presented in Nashville 10 years ago; Boiler Room artistic director Jamey Green is one of the co-authors. On Sept. 27, the classic Man of La Mancha opens, and the season concludes with the engagingly gentle Bock-Harnick musical She Loves Me (Nov. 22). For subscription and ticket information, call (615) 794-7744 or visit www.boilerroomtheatre.com.
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