Tri-State Theater

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

An Interview With the Director of "The 1940s Radio Hour"

For our latest e-interview, we caught up with Bruce Rous, the director of the ARTS production, The 1940s Radio Hour, which starts this evening with a preview performance at 5:30 p.m. at the Renaissance Center in Huntington.

Here's what he had to say:

Q: For those who aren't familiar with the show, tell us the basic story behind
The 1940s Radio Hour.

A: Dec. 1942. America is at war. Economic times are bad, the country's morale is low. A small radio station WOV-New York City airs alive radio show for a studio audience, which is being broadcast by short wave to "the boys over there," as a way of helping improve morale. We are introduced to a dysfunctional radio family, and look at a slice of their lives as they scurry about to get ready for the performance of "The Mutual Manhattan Variety Cavalcade," a musical radio show with great music from the Big Band era, funny commercials (you won't believe the commercial for Phillip Morris cigarettes - "recommended by doctors for cigarette hangover" - seems funny now, but it was an actual commercial), a comedy sketch with sound effects guys, swing dancing, and an onstage big band. There is the Frank Sinatra-type, but his sadness has resulted in drinking more than he should (played by Josh Janotta), the bobby-soxer (Sarah Hayes), and her boyfriend, who goes to Yale and commutes down to do the show (Scott Burner) and they are the featured dancing couple, the grumpy doorman (Charlie Woolcock), the stressed-out station producer (David Vickers), the high strung stage manager (Bil Neal), the jazz singer (Amy Knell), the comedic vamp (Linda Reynolds), and the female Balladeer (Mary Olsen), the comedian-turned ballad singer (Stephen Vance), the delivery boy from the Picadily Drug store who wants to be in show business (Eric Newfeld), and the trombone-playing soldier who is going off to war (John Galloway).

Q: You must like this show - you've worked on it before, and now you're directing it. Why are you a fan of it?

A: This is my fifth production. I adore the show because it melds great music, dance, and interesting characters.

Q: What's the biggest challenge in tackling a period piece like this?

A: I really love the period. The nostalgia and emotion of the time is represented in the music, props and costuming. The problem we've encountered here, vs. say, the Northeast is it has been a really difficult show for which to find certain specific props and costumes. Stephen fabricated replica facades of 40s-style mics, using Schoch Donohue's fancy condensor mics. There is supposed to be a coke machine in the studio. We found only one, and the man would not lend it to us. I basically cut it, and then Stephen found a period Coke cooler, which works fine. The Huntington theatrical community is amazing, as ever, and Helga, you know our dear friend and props mistress, and Jeanette, you know our dear friend and costume coordinator found great assistance from Helen Freeman of HOT, and James Morris Smith of MU Theatre - everyone sort of came through with stuff. What a terrific community! So appreciative of all the loaning.

Q: Tell us about your talented cast.

A: The cast is quite simply put, terrific. Perennial favorites, mixed with a few new faces. They have had an extremely short number of hours to put this show together, we've had to juggle schedules more than anything else I've done around here, but they've just dug in and made the work about quality, not quantity of hours. I've named them already (above), but may I say here, I really did not want to do this show without the right cast. I have way too many fond memories of the show, I have the ghosts of "40s" past living in my memory. I've worked with a few of the original cast members from Broadway and the Yale-Rep days, and I refused to do the show unless the cast was special. We auditioned and auditioned, and could not find some of the right key players, who I felt would not be the right blend in the ensemble ('cause it's a total ensemble piece). Not that the people who auditioned weren't wonderfully talented, they were (!), just maybe not right in the mix of people. What we've ended up with is a way talented group of folk.

Q: Why would you recommend this show to our readers?

A: Good material, good cast, the Marshall student Big Band, only area Christmas show that I know of, and, I must toot the horns of three friends who have worked on the show: Gene and Coni Anthony - their swing dancing and tap is the best of any "40s" I've done - and what fun it has been to work with them again. Dance rehearsals were sheer joy for everyone. And must mention Lang Reynolds here. He graciously agreed to be the lighting designer. I can't believe he agreed. Lights
are so important to this show, and I really don't know any designers around here yet, but have gotten to know Lang recently. His work is amazing. When I saw the first light cue, I said, "it looks like a 1942 Christmas card." Beautiful.

Q: ARTS shows are different because the person attending can also get dinner with the show. How does that work?

A: They serve a yummy dinner in the Ballroom across the hall from the theatre. Book in advance, bring a bottle of wine, and make a night of it!

Q: Tell us when and where the show will be presented, and how much tickets will

A: Shows are Dec. 5 and 6 at 8 p.m., and Dec. 11, 12, 13 at 8 p.m. The final show is Dec. 14 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15. Dinner is another $15. Veterans are admitted to this show, free of charge, with the appreciation of ARTS, for all they have done for our country.

Thanks, Bruce! We'll have more comments in the days ahead from some of the cast members in the show. In the meantime, make sure you make time in your holiday schedule to check out The 1940s Radio Hour!

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