Ode to radio’s golden days

Performing Arts Department to present Walton Jones musical Oct. 5 to 14

Live from the fabulous Hotel Astor in New York City, it’s “The 1940s Radio Hour”!

In October, the Performing Arts Department (PAD) in Arts & Sciences will present Walton Jones’ nostalgic ode to the glory days of big band music, swing dancing and backstage antics as its fall Mainstage production.

Reynolds Whalen croons as rough-edged, Sinatra-clone Johnny Cantone.

Set against the backdrop of World War II, “The 1940s Radio Hour follows a group of broadcast has-beens and wannabes as they attempt to make it big on the “Mutual Manhattan Variety Cavalcade.”

The play’s structure mimics that of an actual radio broadcast, with backstage hands, musicians and performers straggling in, preparing for broadcast and going live. The show features nearly two dozen classic songs, including “Blue Moon,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “Old Black Magic,” as well as comedy segments, radio plays, period commercials and prominent “On the Air” and “Applause” signs, which the audience is prompted to follow.

“The show literally assembles before you eyes,” says William Whitaker, senior lecturer in drama, who directs the cast of 27. “When the audience comes into the theater, stage hands are hooking up lights, performers are getting ready, the orchestra is setting up on stage. Some people are late, the announcer is fretting, the stage manager teaches the audience how to clap properly. Then boom, we’re on the air.”

Harried producer/announcer Clifton Feddington (David Weiss) marshals the cast, which is led by rough-edged crooner Johnny Cantone (Reynolds Whalen), a Sinatra clone and ex-boxer who dates veteran diva Ann Collier (Julia Mancini). Johnny also flirts with bobbysoxer Connie Miller (Elizabeth Birkenmeier) — much to the displeasure of Connie’s preppy boyfriend B.J. Gibson (Jake Levine-Sisson).

Ginger Brooks (Kaylin Boosalis) is a waitress-turned-singer who looks like Betty Grable and talks like Gracie Allen. Comic Neal Tilden (Antonio Rodriguez) drives a cab and dreams of taking Johnny’s role as featured vocalist, while trumpet player Biff Baker (Jimmy Brooks Jr.) prepares to report for Army duty as soon as the broadcast ends. Backstage, delivery boy and would-be singer Wally Ferguson (Ben Walsh) pesters pompous stage manager Lou Cohn (Cat Crowder) and crotchety doorman Pops Bailey (Gil Nussbaum), the show’s resident bookie.

Members of the cast of “The 1940s Radio Hour” include (from left) Julia Mancini, Cat Crowder, David Weiss, Jimmy Brooks Jr. and Antonio Rodriguez.

“They’re all Grade B players — taxi drivers, waitresses, secretaries — but this is the thing that they love to do,” Whitaker said. “We see them come into the studio, work their magic for an hour, celebrate great music and comedy, and then everybody goes home. It’s a real slice of life.”

Musical director is Lisa Campbell Albert, lecturer in Arts & Sciences, who also appears as orchestra leader Zoot Doubleman. Choreography is by Christine Knoblauch-O’Neal, senior lecturer and director of the Ballet Program.

Set designs are by Mike Loui, technical director for the PAD, with props — ranging from old Coke machines to a vintage soundboard — by lecturer Angela Bengford. Costumes are by Bonnie Kruger, senior lecturer. Lighting is by lecturer Sean Savoie.

Performances take place in Edison Theatre at 8 p.m. Oct. 5 and 6, and at 2 p.m. Oct. 7. Performances continue the following weekend at 8 p.m. Oct. 12 and 13, and 2 p.m. Oct. 14. Tickets are $15 — $9 for students, senior citizens and faculty and staff — and are available through the Edison Theatre Box Office, 935-6543, and all MetroTix outlets.

Edison Theatre is located in the Mallinckrodt Student Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd. For more information, call 935-6543.