Review: ‘Radio Gals’

Arollicking riff on smalltown American past and the innocent fun of old-time music, this new musical from the creators of "Pump Boys and Dinettes" and "Oil City Symphony" sparkles with funny, original tunes and talented, enthusiastic performances.

Arollicking riff on smalltown American past and the innocent fun of old-time music, this new musical from the creators of “Pump Boys and Dinettes” and “Oil City Symphony” sparkles with funny, original tunes and talented, enthusiastic performances.

The year is 1927, and in the Cedar Ridge, Ark., parlor of Hazel Hunt (Helen Geller), there is a nonstop radio broadcast and musical celebration in progress.

The show explains that when she retired as the town’s music teacher, Hazel’s grateful students presented her with a brand new radio transmitter. Following the fashion of the “mom and pop” radio stations of the day, Hazel set up her own station, WGAL, to broadcast to the folks of Cedar Ridge and anybody else who cared to listen.

Now, Hazel has her regular ensemble of local ladies, dubbed “The Hazelnuts,” performing on the air, including Rennabelle (Klea Blackhurst), America (Emily Mikesell), Gladys Fritts (Eileen Barnett) and the Swindle sisters, Azilee (Mike Craver) and Mabel (Mark Nadler).

The ladies fill the airwaves with rousing renditions of “Buster, He’s a Hot Dog Now,””Edna the Elephant Girl,””How Many Biscuits Can You Eat?” and “Fairies in My Mother’s Flower Garden.”

The magic of “Radio Gals” is its loving re-creation of America’s innocent musical past. Creators Craver and Mark Hardwick have brilliantly recaptured the spirit of smalltown America in the ’20s with romantic tunes such as “A Fireside, a Pipe and a Pet” and “Why Did You Make Me Love You?”

They also have mined the pure silliness of the era in numbers like “Kittens in the Snow” and “Queenie Take Me Home With You.” Most strikingly, all of these original pieces have a remarkable sense of authenticity.

The performers are a joy to watch and hear. Barnett is a hoot as the flighty Gladys, with a penchant for faraway fantasy and a compulsive drive to dress up.

Mikesell has a beautiful, pure voice and comedy timing that nails every joke , not to mention her ability to play countless instruments.

An equally versatile musician, Blackhurst is sassy and earthy, yet can dissolve an audience to tears with a plaintive rendering of “Dear Mr. Gershwin.” Geller is the commanding mother hen of the proceedings and the engine that really moves this show along.

Lenny Wolpe is the gifted comedian and songster who pitches in even as he arrives to break up the show as an investigator for the Dept. of Commerce. And Nadler and Craver are delightful as the Swindle sisters, the pair of seditious suffragettes.

This is a fun, moving tribute to the pure, light-hearted innocence that was once America, and may still be secretly lurking somewhere deep in our hearts.

Radio Gals

(Pasadena Playhouse; 680 seats; $ 33.50 top)

Production

Pasadena Playhouse presents a musical in two acts by Mike Craver and Mark Hardwick; director, Alan Bailey.

Creative

Sets, Gary Wissmann; lighting, Kevin Mahan; sound design, Frederick W. Boot; costumes, Dawna Oak. Opened, reviewed Jan. 15, 1995; runs through Feb. 19. Running time: 1 hour, 50 min.

Cast

Hazel Hunt ... Helen Geller Rennabelle ... Klea Blackhurst America ... Emily Mikesell Azilee Swindle ... Mike Craver Mabel Swindle ... Mark Nadler Gladys Fritts ... Eileen Barnett O.B. Abbott ... Lenny Wolpe
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