Radio format allows vibrant 1940s music to entertain


Hat check girls, cigarette girls, shapely women walking through entertainment venues selling their latest tray of sinful snacks, cigarettes and candies brings back the memory of a bygone era and sets the tone for MidLife Players newest production “The 1940s Radio Hour,” now playing at the Just Off Broadway Theatre.

Members of this group must attain the ripe old maturity status of “over 35″ to be included into this season band of local thespians whose drive to perform comes out in force when the curtain rises on their newest project. In this case, the cigarette girls adorn the entrance/lobby area of the theatre stocked with a supply of candy cigarettes (nicotine free, of course) and lottery tickets for a pot sharing drawing to open Act II.

“The 1940s Radio Hour” creates a simple story about the characters and lives of the performers at the station and the management. The show opens just about an hour prior to air time and the entertainers and band members come in from the cold to prepare for the broadcast and work out any pre-show directions and changes. Remember–this was to be a live broadcast from the 1940s.

Expect a lot of well-known music from the era and performed by some great vocalists that most generally do not appear on other KC stages throughout the year. All volunteers, doing this for the excitement of performing, do just that. They perform for the audience. Opening night drew about a 75 percent crowd. That’s not bad for an opening Thursday night crowd.

The cast and band needed this opening to find their pacing and hear a live crowd respond to jokes and laughs. And the crowd did laugh, and sing, and tap their feet, smile, and enjoy the charming show. “The 1940s Radio Hour” takes the audience on a memory lane jaunt, but it’s not just music. A story weaves the story and music together.

The only problem with the show comes from the script. Sadly, it’s just not well-through or scripted. The gathering in the station is not well-scripted; there is no love-interest; there is no love/hate relationship; there is no jealousy issues; there is no drama; so, the script just contain flaws. Even with the flaws, the MidLife Players took the characters given and added their own attitudes, spirit, and color to create a structured piece that remains charming.

Probably the most stunning segment of “The 1940s Radio Hour” is the song list that captures the WWII era the best. Some of the featured songs include: “(I’ve Got a Gal In) Kalamazoo, “”Daddy,” “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” ‘That Old Black Magic,” “Ain’t She Sweet,” “How About You?” “Blue Moon,” “I’ll Never Smile Again,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “Blues in the Night,” “Jingle Bells,” “I Got It Bad (and That Ain’t Good),” “You Go to My Head” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Strike Up The Band,” “I’ll Be Seeing You.”

That’s a lot of music for a show, but that’s not all. Before the show and prior to the curtain up on Act II, a singing and comedy bit warms up the audience with a sing-a-long medley of fairly well-known songs. And when you think you seen it all, the ladies break into some tap routines. So, the show does contain some really fun elements for the audience. And, it’s perfectly OK if someone does not know the lyrics. The sing-a-long lyrics are printed in the program. (Extra credit if you don’t have to look at them.)

Lots of good comedy comes from: Diana Leonard as the ladies sing-a-long leader for the pre-show and pre-Act II segments. In the cast, Jasmine Lowe added both attitude and spunk as well as her stunning vocals to help the show keep the audience focused. Newcomer to the group, Brain DeMarea created an active wannabee that was just adorable to watch as he yearned for the spotlight. Jacob Robertson added lots of humor with his characters, expressions, and accents. Curt Knupp showed some smooth transition with song and dance moves. And, Allison Cloud provided some fun with “Daddy” and then a tap number that was well-timed, planned, and executed.

The cast is: Kevin Thomas as Pops Bailey, Bill Bergman as Clifton A. Feddington, Becky Clark as Zoot Doubleman, Brian DeMarea as Wally Fergusson, Pete Berney as Lou Cohn, Jeremy Trader as Johnny Cantone, Wendy Bross as Ginger Brooks, Allison Cloud as Connie Miller, Curt Knupp as B.J. Gibson, Jacob Robertson as Neal Tilson, Susan Neu as Ann Collier, Jasmine Lowe as Geneve Lee Browne, Nan Lippincott as Rosie, Jim Vinkenberg as Biff Baker.

Pre –Show and Post Show Performers: Emcee, Diana Leonard; Becca Stabno, Carol Robinson, Amy Larsen, Deidre Chasteen, Lynn Chick, Kelly Cady, Charlotte Melson, Tracy Pratt, Danise Deckert, Nan Lippincott, Amy Fisch, Ken Kasten.

The band is: Debbie Goddard, piano; Kiri White, trumpet; Kelsey Shields, trombone; Jim Vinkenburg, reeds; Lindsay Lovejoy, bass; Julian Goff drums.

Directed by Julie McDaniel, with Music Direction by Becky Clark. The production team is: Debbie Goddard, keyboard accompanist; Meghann Deveroux, choreographer; Marti Thomas, lighting technician; Ed Leonard, set design and construction; Missy Hyde, sound technician; Denise Deckert, Ian Deckert, Alana Deckert, props and set design; Dan Prather, hair and makeup. consultant.

“The 1940s Radio Hour” runs this week only at the Just Off Broadway Theatre. For tickets check out the theatre website and also the MidLife Players site.

Tags: “The 1940s Radio Hour” review, Just Off Broadway Theatre, MidLife Players, Kansas City Theatre, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment

Images courtesy of MidLife Players and Bob Evans


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