Band: Brian Miller, Patrick Godwin, Brenda Goforth, Bryan Reed, Stephen Winters.
More or less living up to its title, “The 1940’s Radio Hour” simulates a live Mutual network broadcast of a fictitious variety program out of New York City, bookended by backstage activities before and after the “show” itself. Half-baked dramatically, the play (more of a revue, really) is best enjoyed for its lengthy , tuneful centerpiece in which the enthusiastic cast perform several largely familiar songs supplemented by a couple of comedy sketches.
The show was developed by the Ensemble Company and Yale Repertory Theater and Washington (D.C.) Arena Stage before hitting Broadway in late ’79. Current production has been extended by one month at the Crossley Theatre (on grounds of Hollywood’s First Presbyterian Church).
Hosted by producer/singer Clifton Feddington (David Schall), the cast of “Mutual Manhattan Variety Cavalcade” features suave vocalist Johnny Cantone (Perry Stephens) and the Zoot Doubleman (Brian Miller) Orchestra, plus comedian/singer Neal Tilden (William Akey), comic trumpeter Biff Baker (Keith Allen Burns) and singers Geneva Lee Browne (Linda Kerris), Ann Collier (Lori Berg), Connie Miller (Rachel Sheppard), Ginger Brooks (Julietta Marcelli) and B.J. Gibson (Thomas Hillmann).
Production crew consists of stage manager/sound effects man Lou Cohn (Gus Corrado), stagehand Stanley Gallagher (Burns, again) and “Doorman for the Algonquin Room” Arthur (Pops) Bailey (Ken Strong).
At the show reviewed, director Alan Johnson subbed for Burns and Jan Sanborn filled in for Miller.
There is virtually no storyline, other than the broadcast itself. Subplots, such as they are, include Tilden jockeying for featured vocalist position if Cantone makes good on his threat to leave for a Hollywood career; messenger Wally Ferguson’s (Welborn Ferrene) desire to join vocal group “The Boutonnieres, ” and Bailey’s moonlighting as a bookie.
Other potential subplots (a bad snowstorm, rivalry among femme singers, diva attitude of Browne, Cantone’s fear of leaving security of present job) peek through the surface, then disappear without further development.
Songs include likes of “Blue Moon,””(I’ve Got a Gal in) Kalamazoo,””Daddy, “”That Old Black Magic,””How About You” and a Sinatra/Dorsey arrangement of “I’ll Never Smile Again.”
Most are performed with period authenticity — Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller bands are the main prototypes — though “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (1944) and “Chiquita Banana” (’46) are anachronistic for the show’s December 1942 setting. And “I’ll Be Seeing You” can still pull a tear, more than 55 years after it was written.
Singing is appropriate throughout (ensemble vocals are especially notable), and cast members dance so much that those in the “program’s” listenership must wonder why the live audience is applauding so much during instrumental breaks.
A comedy skit between Feddington and Tilden is reminiscent of Jack Benny’s show, and most of cast pitches in for efficient — though Bob Cratchitless — rendition of “A Christmas Carol.”
Cast is uniformly strong, with William Akey and Julietta Marcelli perhaps a shade more notable in this context: he gets to do a little bit of everything and does it well, and her Eskimo Pie commercial — delivered in a voice that’s half Miss Piggy and half Marilyn Monroe — could move mountains of that chilly confection, even on a stormy December night.