Smooth operators

The 1940’s Radio Hour

Not quite rockin’ the house, but ooh, is it smooth fun.

Not quite rockin’ the house, but ooh, is it smooth fun.

The Studio Theatre

1028 R St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 446-2668

Rated 4.0

They may have shifted gears, but the rambunctious crew at Artistic Differences still pulls out the stops in this holiday mix of old old-school songs. Set in a Manhattan radio station in 1942, The 1940’s Radio Hour isn’t a rock opera, but Sacramento’s alt musical troupe still manages to put a spring in their step and a shimmy in a dance or two.

Radio station WOV is prepping for their weekly one-hour live broadcast, the Mutual Manhattan Variety Cavalcade, even as Pops (Jes Gonzales) makes book on the station’s phone. But trouble’s brewing: A featured male vocalist hasn’t shown up for a couple of shows, leaving a shot at the spotlight for someone. Will it be the troupe’s funny man, Neal Tilden (Scott Woodard)? Or will the ever-hopeful delivery boy, Wally Fergusson (Benjamin T. Ismail), finally get his big break?

If it sounds innocent, it is. This show is easily the best Christmas gift for the grandma who has everything. Even the sex-induced double takes during “Blues in the Night,” in which Ginger (Bevin Bell-Hall) does some serious booty shaking, are more funny than salacious.

Seriously, The 1940’s Radio Hour is not the kind of show we’ve come to expect from Artistic Differences; the only thing “edgy” here are the creases in the men’s pants. But it is a top-notch production, with the attention to detail that makes A.D.’s shows worth their weight in gold, and it’s got the right kind of nostalgia—it’s thought-provoking.

For example, the farewell to the orchestra’s departing horn man, Biff Baker (Byron Roope), who’s heading off to fight overseas, is every bit as patriotic as our current tributes to troops. But in 1942, the sacrifice didn’t stop with the troops; period commercials remind us that shortages at home were willingly shouldered so that soldiers could have what they needed. Even the car companies retooled for the war effort. Perhaps what makes the story seem so innocent is our unwillingness to make the same sort of sacrifices for our beliefs—and our troops—that these characters make without hesitation.

Highlights include some crooning (“Love Is Here to Stay”) and a well-played drunk routine from the alcoholically impaired, Frank Sinatra-wannabe Johnny Cantone (Martin Beal), as well as some outstanding, ’40s-style singing and jitterbugging by a pair of ingénues, B.J. and Connie (Lucas Blair and Christina Day). There’s plenty of light comedy, and as Wally, Ismail occasionally seems to be channeling Jerry Lewis. Keep an eye on this kid; he’s a scene stealer. The serious ballads are by turns soulful (“I Got It Bad (and That Ain’t Good),” sung by Naomi Powell as Geneva Browne) and sweet (“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” sung by Maggie Hollinbeck as Ann Collier). Hollinbeck adds an intriguing bit of subtext, too; without saying a word, it’s easy to see that she’s in love (and extremely disappointed) with Cantone.

With a detailed, crowded set that fits the times and works as part of the show, and a wonderful band, conducted by Richanne Baldridge (as Zoot Doubleman), The 1940’s Radio Hour is a good bet for a holiday show—a handful of Christmas songs, some great “big band”-style singing, light comedy and a chance to ask yourself what it means to be patriotic. Edgy? Not at all. But it’s really smooth in the best way.