IRVINE — What makes "The 1940's Radio Hour" more than just a revue of period songs is its ability, in the right hands, to convey the innocence and anxiety of the war years.
But director Ronald Ellison misses most of that at Irvine Valley College, opting instead to work the cute angle. It's a miscalculation that wears thin fairly early on.
More successful productions of Walton Jones' musical are giddy, but also bittersweet looks back at a worried time made easier by radio. This isn't a great show, but it can be a touching one, especially around the holidays.
Yes, it's set at Christmastime, so we get the usual trappings (decorated trees in each corner and the like) in Suzie K. Duval's attractive set of a decked-out broadcasting studio at WOV in Manhattan. Nancy Bracken's costumes are also right on, from the gowns to the tailored suits of the day.
It's Dec. 21, 1942, and the WOV gang is putting on a live "Variety Cavalcade" from the Hotel Astor's Algonquin Room. It's an interesting group, from the Sinatraesque lead crooner, Johnny (Ray Quigley), to the torchy Ann (Teresa Porcu).
Ann may be having an affair with the boozing Johnny, who's getting a little too friendly with the bouncy Connie (Mindy Cowan). Other small subplots develop, with Neal (Terry Christopher) hoping to take Johnny's spot when he leaves for Hollywood and Biff (Sean Williams) ready to ship out overseas.
With all this going on, there's still plenty of time to sing several songs, including "Black Magic," "Happy Days," "Merry Christmas" and "You Go to My Head." The renditions aren't bad; some voices, notably Quigley's, are better than others, but all are passable.
The problem comes with the stuff in between. Ellison's cast is too antic in approaching the characters. Not everybody takes this path--Porcu is relatively low-key, as is Quigley--but most do.
In the end, their over-the-top performances weigh down the production with cliche and, worse, superficiality. No way is "The 1940's Radio Hour" meant to be brooding or cerebral, but it is deeper than what we have here.
"The 1940's Radio Hour," Irvine Valley College's Forum Theatre Building A300, 5550 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine. Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. Ends Nov. 23. (714) 451-5333. $11 and $12. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.