The 1940’s Radio Hour

by Dick Kerekes
Orange Park Community Theatre opened its 38th season with the musical The 1940’s Radio Hour. The show will continue through September 27th, with performances on Friday and Saturday evenings. There is a matinee on Sept 21, and an additional Thursday performance on Sept 25. The theatre is located at 2900 Moody Road in Orange Park. Call 276-2599 for information and reservations.
This musical by Walton Jones is a revue of l940s music and actually has a story surrounding the songs. It is set in a crowded WOV radio studio in the famous Hotel Astor in New York. The time is December 21st l942, in the middle of WW II. The first act is non musical and revolves around show producer, Cliff Feddington (Mike Ward) passing out the scripts, tracking down the performers and just general chitchat. A number of subplots develop among the fourteen people on the stage and at time they tend to talk at the same time (quite natural) but nerve racking to the audience. The first act is short, less than l/2 hour and after the intermission, the actual radio show starts and the music commences.
Ward, who co-directed this musical with his wife Cindy, is also the master of ceremonies and does most of the commercials featuring products that most of us have heard of, like Pepsi Cola, Chiquita Banana, Nash automobiles and some items that are concerned with bodily functions. Funny stuff and the audience got a big laugh out of them. Ward even sings well.
Most audience members probably do not recall these radio shows, as they are long gone. Comedy was also a part of the show and in OPTC’s cast, Steve Conrad as Neal provided the comic moments and even did a creditable job of crooning a tune (Blue Moon). The featured male vocalist was Johnny Cantone played by Scott Broughton, who dressed like Frank Sinatra and used his good looks to swoon the ladies in the first row of the studio audience (us). Scott was at his best with the song “I’ll Never Smile Again” Ho
T.J.Horworth plays B.J.; the young singer who will replace Cantone when he leaves the radio show to make movies. Howarth sings “You Go To My Head” and I can see him doing many more musicals as he has good stage presence and appearance. Connie Senkowski, an Orange Park veteran since her first appearance in l978, is the featured female singer, Ann Collier. Connie sings several songs with a very charismatic style including the only Christmas song in the show, “Merry Little Christmas”.
If you want to see Sara Beth Gerard in action, you had better make your reservations for this show. She plays singer Connie Miller and is leaving Jacksonville after this production to pursue a masters’ in Performance Studies in Texas. Ms. Gerard has an excellent voice and tap dances with precision. She was especially colorful and energetic in “Strike Up the Band”.
Michelle DuChim plays Ginger Brooks. She is the choral director for Lakeside Junior and only has one solo in this show but what a solo. Wow, her rendition of “Blues in the Night” was a show stopper.
Richard Haertel has a lot of fun as the sound effects man and holding up the applause sign for the audience. Tucker Washburn plays Wall, the drug store delivery boy who is a show business wannabe but never gets a solo although he sings the group numbers. Stan Mesnick, who will be starring in OPTC’S next show, Sly Fox has a carefree non singing role as “Pops”, the station janitor, and resident unofficial bookie for horse races.
Music Director Brenda Cohn working with the band leader and keyboard player Charlie Mann did an excellent job of arranging the music so that the full potential of each voice was realized. They made even marginal singers sound good. Mr. Mann also played the character “Zoot” in the play. Others in this fine little band included John Cochran (percussion), Heather Baerga (saxophone and flute), Alex Geovanni (trumpet) Heather Mackenzie-DiMartzio (string bass). Emily Scanlon as choreographer even managed to work in a few dance numbers of this small and crowded stage.
Mike and Cindy Ward, the directors, also designed the set that was very realistic. I especially liked the New York skyline on the back wall. You can never go wrong with the music of Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, along with George and Ira Gershwin.
Thanks to The Tom Nehl Fund of the Community Foundation for their financial support that made possible the costumes and the special props used in the show. This show is lively, the cast is good and is having fun and you will too. Don’t miss The l940’s Radio Hour.