1940’s Radio Hour was a play I wish I had gone and seen twice. It was the first UWS play I have seen, and I was genuinely blown away. The set, costumes, music, singing and incredible dancing, the actor’s dedication to their character, the level of deepness every character had despite the extremely minimal actual dialog between them—all of these things surprised me in the best kind of way.
I had tried finding out what this play was going to be about before I saw it. The descriptions were all very short. “Takes place in the well worn studios of WOV Radio in New York City on December 22nd, 1942,” and “A radio show featuring live music and issues from the day.” None of these things told me who the characters were and what trials they would face.
When I arrived to see the play with my friends, we were seated by an actress whose character was one of the radio shows ushers. Looking on stage, it appeared the show, to some extent, had already started. I learned that what we were seeing was a pre-show. We were the audience and on stage were the cast setting everything up for their radio show. Manion Theater was now in the year 1942.
The character Stanley, played by Yoel Yohannes, fixed Christmas lights. BJ Gibson, played by Myles Heistad, and Connie Miller, played by Makenzie Morse, were clearly in a relationship, but a troubled one and Connie made frequent trips to the Coca-Cola machine where Johnny Cantone, played by Nick Montecalvo, was hanging out. Throughout the play I think she ended up drinking 10 glasses of Coke. Clifton Feddington, played by KUWS director John Munson, was the show’s host and director.
Johnny was the shows featured vocalist, and had been for the six years WOV Radio had been on the air. At the beginning of the play, you find him flirting on the background with Connie. Also going around and asking everyone to loan him a few dollars, a request in-which everyone denied, except for Neal Tilden, played by Sam Bohanon. Johnny said he needed to money to go to Hollywood. He was leaving the radio to be in the movies. If Neal loaned him the money, he would tell Clifton to make Neal the new featured vocalist.
Before Johnny’s first song, he said “this one goes out to my wife, wherever she is.” Once the show started, the characters no longer talked to each other in dialog we can hear. We saw their lips moving, and their physicality, and through that we were told of the story behind all 17 actors and actresses on stage.
As we find out more about how Johnny is distraught about his marriage, things get better between Connie and BJ. The two of them have to sing a love song together part way through the radio show. They start out with their backs facing away, and singing angrily, but as they sing about love, they begin to look at one another again, and remember why they fell in love in the first place.
Johnny disappears for a while, and when he comes back he is drunk. He goes up the mic and talks about how he had come onto the show in the first place. He tells Clifton that he is leaving the show, and is going to Hollywood to find his wife, but before he goes he has to tell Clifton who the new featured vocalist should be. Neal stands up and has this giddy look on his face, but Johnny says that BJ should get the top role. We would expect Neal to be angry, and possibly even a fight to emerge from this betrayal, but instead, Neal shakes BJs hand, and Johnnys, and though he looks disappointed, he accepts the outcome.
Commercials on the show are also live. They advertise Pepsi, and some other products that made more sense for the day. In the commercials, they frequently reference the war, and that if you cannot find the product they are advertising, its fine but you will have to wait because making sure the boys overseas are healthy and ready for fighting is of the utmost importance. Though they all are proud and patriotic of the soldiers, everything gets very quiet whenever the war is mentioned.
Biff Baker, played by Alan Haney, is wearing a soldier’s uniform. He is given time to speak about the war effort, saying that he was only given a week back in the States. He says his parents miss him, and that with the help of America, the war will be over by Christmas 1943. This statement sent chills down my spine because everyone seems so sad, but they act so alright and happy, and I knew the war would not end for another two years.
The play is not over when the radio show is. Clifton hands everyone their paychecks. Clifton and sound creator Lou Cohn, played by Andrew Kirov, plan to get drinks until Lou’s newly apparent girlfriend Ginger Books, played by Sky Fielder, reminds him that the two of them have plans. During the play you see Clifton as a cold and angry boss, but when he is left alone on the set, you see another, very lonely side to him.
Clifton leaves, and on the set is a character who has been sitting in the back, smoking and playing cards the whole show, named Pops Bailey, played by Todd Larson. Pops is the one who locks up after everyone leaves. Clifton jokes telling him not to sleep here, and Pops jokes back about it, but once Clifton leaves, Pops pulls out a tooth brush and a towel, making it apparent that it was not a joke. Pops turns on a single light bulb on the center of the stage, and plays on the radio a slow smooth, “I’ll be home for Christmas.” He leaves to brush his teeth, and the lights fade as we all hear “if only in my dreams,” a scene so deep and sad it almost made me want to cry. The audience proceeded to stand up and to clap.