Review: The 1940s Radio Hour by Austin Community College
by Michael Meigs

I knew that The 1940s Radio Hour done last week at the One World Theatre by the Austin Community College Choir would provide us a time machine to amusement. The surprise for me was the dipsy-doodle movement of that flight through time.

I went to the 11:30 a.m. performance, enjoying the novel sensation of driving in daylight to a theatre performance. I got there half an hour early, picked up my ticket, hiked upstairs to the theatre and was astonished to find myself walking into a capacious performance space with almost every seat already filled. I had to scramble to get a front seat to the far right of the stage.

Looking a little closer, I realized that I'd unwittingly signed up for the "senior special" performance -- rarely had I seen such a vast display of tidily coiffed older women. Yes, I saw some men here and there, usually of the same age, but for a moment it was if the Frank Sinatra fan club of 1942 had been waiting eagerly and patiently in that magic space for the past 68 years. Buzzing and happy, they didn't mind that the show started ten minutes late.

(ALT photo)
Strictly speaking, most of these folks were probably toddlers back in 1942, so the time warp wasn't exactly perfect. But the ACC choir players gave us good renditions of the golly-gee-whiz all-American entertainment of the 40s, so it hardly mattered.

The set-up for the Radio Hour is familiar -- it's exactly the sort of ensemble piece about young hopefuls in the entertainment world churned out in the various Big Broadcast films of the 1930s and perfected by Arthur Freed at MGM. The hassled, abrupt producer; his dutiful second banana ordering the players around; a crooner with a drinking problem; a cute girl group, the Boutineers, that's a direct knock-off of the Andrews sisters; a couple of clean-cut young men, one destined for the Army Air Force and another taking the relay from his older brothers, now both in the service; "Pops," the janitor; the Judy Garland vulnerable heart of gold, and the tough sexy blonde who reeks of late nights with sugar daddies.

William Cody Querner, Jenny Schmerber (ALT photo)

Since it's a show about a show, you get the preliminary set-up, initially pantomimed, as cast, crew and musicians gather, interact, and establish their characters; the radio show itself with a pop list of 21 very familiar numbers; then the after-show, off the air, as players disperse, musicians pack up, and Pops takes his broom to the stage again. Oh, and after that, the real curtain call.


This sounds deceptively simple. As far as storyline and comic bits go, it is. The ACC choir players are re-enacting that same old story of kids with stars in their eyes, the one we recognize and love. But they are also taking on songs, themes and dances that are vividly established in our memories, in versions perfected by artists such as Sinatra, Glenn Miller, those Andrews sisters, Peggy Lee, Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald and even Carmen Miranda. Those bygone artists made it look so easy! 

But how would you like to have Benjamin Grafton's challenge of matching Sinatra's cool command of the lyrics, the pauses and the innuendos of "Love Is Here To Stay" or "I'll Never Smile Again"? Or Raven Wilkins' job of imitating Judy Garland's carefree, pitch perfect rendition of "Rose of the Rio Grand"? The visual and aural spectacle of them and others attempting those high hurdles is edifying. One is tempted to score them against 6.0 perfection, the way it's done in ice skating, and all in all they do really well.

Katie Walther (ALT photo)


At the very top of this game is Katie Walther playing "bad girl" Ginger Brooks. She has the musical assurance, the command, nuance and the personality of the best of the old timers. "Blues in the Night," that Peggy Lee favorite, is the shining moment of the show -- all the more so because she has the confidence to do it straight and then with the backing of all the male players. During their two numbers with her, they get the vaudeville treat of lifting that singing hot babe into the horizontal, not once but twice. And she can dance, too.

William Cody Querner, Hailey Tuck (ALT photo)

Hailey Tuck as stylish Connie Miller delivers with style and vulnerability "I Got It Bad (and That Ain't Good)" and "I'll Be Seeing You." Raven Wilkins as Ann Collier the all-American sweetheart puts lots of heart into her numbers -- particularly "Black Magic" and "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" (a Judy Garland perpetual). 

The singing Boutineers hoof and prance and harmonize it with Chiquita Banana and the inevitable "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" (Tiffany Leigh Coghill, Jordan Gott, Lauren Ilyse Klein and Jenny Schmerber). The foursome tended to surround tightly a single microphone at the front of the stage, so from my disadvantaged seat I lost their faces most of the time.

Of the guys, I most appreciated the singing of Kenneth Black as Neal Tilden and both the singing and dancing of William Cody Querner as Yalie B.J. Gibson. Jonathan Melendez as second-banana Lou Cohn is confident with the comedy, the radio sound effects and with the dancing moves.

ACC choir director and associate professor Dr. Jim Shepherd is "Jimmy Shepherd" in the director's credit in the program. He kept the action snappy and all those actors firmly in character throughout the show.  Stylish choreography is by co-director Tamia Zulueta.

Proceeds from the five performances at the One World Theatre will help defray costs for the ACC choir's planned trip to New York to perform Faure's "Requiem" with other choirs at Carnegie Hall in April, 2010. 




Click to view program for The 1940s Radio Hour by Austin Community College Choir


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The 1940s Radio Hour
by Walton Jones
Austin Community College

November 17 - November 29, 2009
One World Theatre
7701 Bee Caves Road
Austin, TX, 78746