Great songs and voices in original musical
There are many reasons to see the latest production from Theatre on the Ridge, Radioland’s Fall Fantasia. As far as I am concerned, though, it’s worth attending just to see and hear Mercedes Macías’ rendering of “La Llorona,” the classic lament about a woman believed to haunt the valleys of Mexico, crying for her children whom she drowned in a fit of jealous despair.
It’s been sung by many artists, including Joan Baez, but the definitive version is by the legendary Chavela Vargas, “the Edith Piaf of Mexico.” Her face painted as if for Dia de los Muertos, Macias gives a soulful and deeply emotional interpretation of the song, one that Vargas herself would have enjoyed.
Hers was the standout performance in what amounted to a remarkably rich and diverse show when I saw it last Friday (Sept. 8). It’s presented as a live radio variety hour circa 1963, complete with a harmony quartet (The Sophisticates), a comic quartet (the Caukaiser Family), three guest stars, a satirical serial Western (The Scarlet Ranger), a game show (Beat the Stars!), a murder mystery (The Art of Murder, featuring the sleuthing female librarians Stiffy and Bing), and even a couple of sound effects men (Patrick Allen Brown and Addison Turner).
Occupying a small booth off to the side of the stage is Phil Guilders (John Marek), the silver-tongued host of the show.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Radioland’s Fall Fantasia is that—other than the cover songs—it was written by TOTR’s artistic director, Jerry Miller, who also directed. Miller also wrote the musical jingles that accompany the show’s advertisements, which he also penned.
Miller’s tour de force would be wasted, however, if he didn’t have so much talent to work with. Take Bill Petree, for example. He played the guest star Rex King, a crooner in the style of Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra. Petree, a tall, handsome man, not only looked the part but also sang ballads such as “Autumn in New York” with spot-on phrasing and cool aplomb.
The other guest stars are Macías, as the singer Rosa Delgado, aka “la rosa sin espinas (the rose without thorns),” and Sierra Hall as pop star Dottie West. In her red sequined dress, she looks like a young Reba McEntire but sings like Celine Dion.
The two quartets also are entertaining. I especially enjoyed The Sophisticates’ rendering of the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins classic “I Put a Spell on You,” in this case done as a campy horror tune with ghostly figures coming out of the darkness. The group’s version later in the show of “Monster Mash,” the inimitable novelty tune by Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers, is also great fun.
The Caukaiser Family is memorable for the presence of TOTR Executive Director Judy Clemens, who plays Grandma Nona, the group’s comically entertaining lead singer. She is backed up by three members of the multi-talented Jones family, father Christopher, mother Shaunna and daughter Terra.
There’s more, much more. The Scarlet Ranger is an amusing take on the serial Western, and Beat the Stars!, featuring Eric Ricketts as Professor Dieter von Drake, the “Teutonic titan of trivia,” and Kelly Oberlander as his assistant, Frau Prinzregenentorte, is great fun, even for the three contestants plucked from the audience. I also enjoyed The Art of Murder, a send-up of British mysteries in which even a corpse on the floor isn’t enough to keep the sleuthing librarians from shushing everyone.