I’m not even sure that I can write a plot summary of The 1940s Radio Hour because there’s no plot to summarize. In the show, a New York radio station puts on a Christmas broadcast. That’s it. There are a couple of running gags and a half-baked attempt at drama when the alcoholic lead singer (predictably) gets drunk, but other than that, the show is a loose framework to sing songs from the era.
The Los Altos Theatre Company’s Christmas show this year is rough. The tickets are a good deal for a live performance, but the show is weak overall and there’s nothing that can compensate for that.
I might have been able to forgive the non-existent story line if the vocals had been good. The actors weren’t glaring off key, but each song was sung with distinctly modern vocal qualities. Even modern songs can be made to sound ‘40s-esque with the right intonations (if you don’t believe me, just Google Post-Modern Jukebox), but almost none of the actors were even close.
Furthermore, some of the actors were cast in roles that were out of their vocal range. A few of the songs were put into different keys to help the actors hit the notes. But even with the key changes, one of the songs was so bad that I wanted to pull my earplugs out of my purse. It’s not entirely the fault of the actors, they should not have been cast in roles they couldn’t sing, but still, it’s almost painful to sit through, especially if you’re a singer yourself.
Additionally, the trumpet needs a mute. Jacob Jackman does a lovely job playing the instrument, but no brass instrument should be on microphone in a theater that small.
The notable exception in the cast is Nathaniel Rothrock, in the role of B.J. Gibson, who does not deserve to go down with this ship. He is able to sing in a more jazz-like style with more vibrato to mimic the sounds that were popular on the radio at the time. Plus he can act well and pulls of a stellar tap number with Michelle Skinner (playing Connie Miller). Even ignoring the fact that he’s a triple threat, it’s really his vocal quality that makes him the standout of the show. He’s true to the period, which I’m sad to say is an anomaly in this show.
Clifton A. Feddington, played by Ken Boswell, is also notable as the glue that keeps this show from careening right off the stage. Partially because of his managerial character and partially because of his strong and grounding stage presence, Boswell keeps the show together. The only character with a clear objective, he narrates and steers the radio show through its many disparate acts.
The show is not entirely unenjoyable, there are sections that are cute or funny like when they put on a partial radio drama of A Christmas Carol. I would have like it if that had been the whole show. But overall the lack of plot and the spurts of bad singing just make the show seem to drag on too long.
The Los Altos Stage Company is performing The 1940s Radio Hour now through December 23, 2017 at the Bus Barn at 97 Hillview Ave, Los Altos. Tickets run from $20 to $38.
Photos courtesy of Los Altos Stage Company