By Billy Thomas
This holiday season, Harlequin Productions goes back in time to present the return of The 1940s Radio Hour. First gracing the Harlequin stage 22 years ago, Radio Hour inspired the launch of the iconic and successful Stardust series. The show replaces Stardust in Harlequin’s 2018-2019 lineup. Aaron Lamb, acting artistic director for Harlequin Productions and director for Radio Hour, said, “We’d like to return to the beginning and show our audience what inspired our holiday series from the start.”
The change should not disappoint. Full of nostalgic music, dancing and sound effects, the theatrical production of Radio Hour depicts the final, holiday broadcast of The Mutual Manhattan Variety Cavalcade on Dec. 21, 1942 – a year after the United States’ involvement in World War II – for overseas soldiers.
In a long-departed era when radios were living room centerpieces, emphatically bellowing songs like “Strike Up the Band” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” (both in the play), performers take the audience behind the scenes of WOV, an AM station in New York City. The audience is introduced to a harassed producer who copes with his drunk lead singer, a delivery boy who wants a chance in front of the mic, a “second banana” who dreams of singing a ballad, and a sound-effects trumpeter who chooses a fighter plane over Glenn Miller.
The show’s assistant director, Maggie Doyle, is no stranger to the Harlequin stage, having played Joy Higgsby in the Stardust series for the past six seasons. She said in an email that the series “is a Christmas tradition cherished by the Olympia community and one I hold closely to my heart. I can think of no better way to honor the legacy of Stardust than to go back to the story that inspired it all.”
In a twist on the traditional, live-performance format, the show begins before the curtain rises. The audience will be immersed in the pre-show process, getting a chance to meet both the actors and the characters they play on the radio.
Lamb is thrilled to direct this radio performance, stating, “What’s so fun about watching radio theater is that you get to hear the story being told, but you also get to see what’s actually happening.” Lamb recommends that for the full experience, audience members should at times close their eyes. Those instructions seem odd at first, but Lamb explains, “You’ll get a completely different experience. Imagine hearing a Pepsi commercial, then opening your eyes to see that the actress is drinking a Coke. Radio is about what you hear, but what you hear isn’t necessarily what’s actually happening. So try closing your eyes for five minutes when you come to see the show.”
The 1940s Radio Hour received a 1979 Broadway run in 1979 and was nominated for five Drama Desk Awards the following year, including “Outstanding Musical.”
The 1940s Radio Hour
8 p.m. Thursday – Saturday, Nov. 29 – Dec. 1;
2 p.m. Sundays Dec. 2, 9, 16, 23 and 30 and Monday, Dec. 24;
3 p.m. Saturdays, Dec. 15, 22 and 29;
7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 31 with champagne toast
Harlequin Productions’ State Theater,
202 Fourth Ave. E, Olympia