Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Hillbarn recalls days past with 'The 1940's Radio Hour'

Joe Gloss plays deploynment-bound Biff. (Mark and Tracy Photography)

After a pandemic-forced shutdown, Hillbarn Theatre has resumed live performances with “The 1940’s Radio Hour.”

Back before the internet and social media and back before TV, radio was a primary source of home entertainment.

Set as a live show emanating from a New York City radio station in December 1942, the first year of World War II, “The 1940’s Radio Hour” evokes that time with songs and commercials.

Hence such products as Pepsi Cola, Cashmere Bouquet soap and Nash cars are pitched.

Some of the more memorable songs are favorites like “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” “Ain’t She Sweet,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “I’ll Be Seeing You” and many others.

They’re all delivered by the 16-member cast and seven-member band overseen by musical director Rick Reynolds on piano.

Some of the songs feature dancing by Alex Rosenberg as B.J. Gibson, Kylie Abucay as Connie and Fiona ONeill as Ginger Brooks. The program doesn’t credit a choreographer.

Although nearly everyone in the cast sings well, one of the standouts is Jillian Bader as Ann, singing “That Old Black Magic.”

Some of the best acting comes from Ray D’Ambrosio as Clifton Feddington, the radio show’s beleaguered producer, and Eiko Yamamoto as Louise, the stage manager who tries to keep everyone in line.

Versatile Joe Gloss portrays Biff, a cast member who’s now a soldier about to be deployed overseas. He does double duty by playing trumpet in the band.

Costumes by Pam Lampkin reflect styles of the day, complete with saddle shoes on some of the actors. Lighting by Pamila Gray, the set by Eric Olson and sound by Ron Ho also enhance the show.

Created by Walton Jones, the show proved so popular in the South Bay that the late-lamented San Jose Repertory Theatre presented it three times as a holiday treat.

Unfortunately, Michelle Greenberg-Shannon, the director here, doesn’t seem to trust the material. Instead she inserts extraneous stage business that detracts from the songs and script.

A certain amount of character development is important, but it shouldn’t be carried to extremes.

Such is the case of Kyle Laplana as Wally Ferguson, a stagestruck, klutzy drugstore delivery boy who winds in up in the radio show when one of its men doesn’t show up. Not only does Wally frequently try to insert himself into the spotlight, he often paws at any nearby woman.

Running about 100 minutes without intermission, “The 1940’s Radio Hour” continues through Dec. 19 at Hillbarn Theatre, 2185 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City.

For more details, including the playbill, go to https://www.hillbarntheatre.org/1940s-radio-hour/, which also has ticket and COVID protocol information. Tickets also are available through 650-349-6411, ext. 2.