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A CurtainUp Review
Radio Gals
Cheerful Small Town Living Room Bursting With Music
by Elyse Sommer

I saw two dramas in the last two weeks that opened with thunder and lightening. Now comes Radio Gals. Since it's a musical the skies crackle, not to set a somber mood but to focus on the radio tower outside Miss Hazel H. Hunt's home in Cedar Ridge, Arkansas. You see, Hazel, a music teacher whose arthritis made her "pack up her metronome" used her retirement present, a 500-watt radio transmitter, to set up a broadcasting station in her living room. The time is the 1920s when radio was as wide open as the Internet is today. Armed with a license and the former students and Swindle "sisters" who make up her parlor band Miss Hazel becomes a broadcaster. When the Hazelnuts aren't making music, Hazel makes announcements of local import --like "Lost dog, 3 legs, recently neutered and answers to the name Lucky."

The dramatic premise upon which these events turn isn't exactly unpredictable. It seems Hazel's tendency to rove beyond the bandwidth permitted her (and also advertising a medicine bearing a remarkable likeness to gin), has attracted the attention of a Federal Radio Inspector. And yes, you guessed it, he's young, plays the accordion and sings. If you say, it sounds hokey and predictable, you're 100% correct. Even the names are corny, with a double meaning lurking in a few of them like America for the most apple-pie of the Hazlenuts and and Miss Mabel and Miss Azilee' s last names. But it's also a cheery trip back to small town America of another day and most important, it's fun!

What makes the whole enterprise enjoyable is the amazingly versatile cast of seven, all of whom act, dance, sing and manage to play every instrument in sight--and they're all over the set, hanging on the wall as well as positioned around the living room set. The book, music and lyrics by Mike Carver and Mark Hardwick, recreate the spirit of their previous homespun musicals Oil City Symphony and Pump Boys and Dinettes. Some of the standout numbers are "Dear Mr. Gershwin" and "Edna Jones, the Elephant Girls" and in Act one and the "Buster, He's a Hot Dog Now" in Act 2.

The Houseman theater, with its generous stage and clear sight lines from every seat is an ideal venue for this type of small show which I suspect will have a long life traveling to other, similarly proportioned stages throughout the country. The little flower pot in the window, and the glimmer of the porch are typical of the many appropriately homey touches in Narelle Sissons' sets. Also right in the mood, down to the granny square wraps for Mabel and Azilee, are Michael Krass's costumes.

In closing it's interesting to note that, light and fluffy as the Radio Gals plot is, it is based on an actual incident in the life of the evangelist Aimee Semple MacPherson who got into trouble with the law when she wandered the channels of the radio station she ran out of her Los Angeles temple. This "wavejumping" for clear air space prompted Herbert Hoover, the Secretary of Commerce, to send an inspector to close her station which she protested violently. An unconfirmed rumor had it that she eloped with the inspector--on a motorcycle.

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©Copyright 1999 Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
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