Musical numbers: “The Wedding of the Flower” “Sunrise Melody,” “Aviatrix Love Song,” “Horehound Compound I,” “If Stars Could Talk,” “When It’s Sweetpea Time in Georgia,” “Dear Mr. Gershwin,” “The Tranquil Boxwood,” “Faeries in My Mother’s Flower Garden,” “Horehound Compound II,” “A Fireside, a pipe & a pet,” “Edna Jones, the Elephant Girl,” “Paging the Ether,” “Royal Radio,” “Weather Song,” “Buster, He’s a Hot Dog Now,” “Why Did you Make Me Love You?,” “Kittens in the Snow,” “Old Gals,” “A Gal’s Got to Do What a Gal’s Got to Do,” “The NBC Broadcast (Horebound Compound III, Whispering Pines, The Wedding of the Flowers, Queenie Take Me Home).”
Would that the residents of cedar Ridge, Ark., had the bite of their kindred spirits in Greater Tuna, Texas. Cedar Ridge, home to “Radio Gals,” the new musical by Mike Craver and Mark Hardwick, is a mildly amusing place to visit, but slips from memory quicker than a Weak transmission fades from an AM dial.
The down-home setting, cornpone dialogue and campy humor — not to mention two men in granny drag — do indeed recall “Greater Tuna,” although “Radio Gals” has music, a larger cast and, unfortunately, a blander wit. The music by Craver and the late Hardwick (“Pump Boys and Dinettes,” “Oil City Symphony”) is a pastiche of various novelty genres of 1920s vintage (Rudy Vallee stuff, a jungle number, an Egyptian knockoff), but both the songs and the talented performers try too hard for too little.
The plot (though it’s little more than an excuse to feature the jokey musical numbers) unspools at a 500 watt radio station — WGAL, naturally — that broadcasts from the Americana-stuffed living room of retired music teacher Hazel c. Hunt (Carole Cook). Along with the Hazelnuts, her hodgepodge quintet of singers and musicians, Hazel hits the air waves every morning with a blend of folksy chat and old-timely music.
But Hazel’s also a “wave-jumper,” changing the frequency of her two-bit station to find whatever channel happens to be clear, a violation of federal codes. Enter the government inspector, who drops by to say things like, “There’s policy to consider! Standards to maintain!” Threatening to close the station, the stage-struck inspector (Matthew Bennett) soon is enlisted in the musical shenanigans by the wily Hazel, and, needless to say, all ends well.
Packed with more than 20 musical numbers. “Radio Gals” gives each cast member ample opportunity in the spotlight as one after another takes a turn at the broadcast mike. The best of the songs (“Dear Mr. Gershwin,” “Aviatrix Love Song”) are both clever and catchy, but most of the rest are merely forgettable. A pair of numbers sung in a mock-operatic style by Rosemary Loar are more grating than humorous, and even the better tunes lean too close to cute.
Still, the music is slick enough, which can’t really be said about the book. Helen’s good-morning address to her radio listeners sets an unfortunate tone: Within the first five minutes, “Radio Gals” uses two old jokes as if no one had ever heard them before (punch lines are “answers to the name of Lucky” and “three sandwiches short of a picnic”) . Most of the dialogue, though, falls in the gray zone between gently pleasant and innocuous.
As Hazel, Cook is a game hostess for the evening, essentially playing straightwoman to a crew of not-nearly-nutty-enough Hazelnuts. Emily Mikesell and Klea Blackhurst are fine performers, but both of their characters are too tame to leave much impression, while Loar as a flighty flapper and Bennett as the government inspector play too broadly by half. Co-author Craver and actor M. Rice portray (in drag) two elderly piano-playing sisters, but the gag isn’t mined for much beyond the initial visual joke. All of the performers are called upon to play a variety of instruments, from guitar to dishpan, and the requisite versatility could prove an obstacle in casting regional productions.