FARGO—The holiday plays at The Stage at Island Park are some of the biggest of the year for the theater. So patrons may have been surprised when the resident troupe, Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre, announced that for its December run, the company would produce the little-known "The 1940's Radio Hour".
While the name may not ring a bell—the play premiered in 1980—the songs that inspire this jukebox musical will be familiar.
The show, which opens Friday night, is set on Dec. 21, 1942, in the studios of New York radio station WOV. It's the final broadcast of the Mutual Manhattan Variety Cavalcade. That and the still young World War II raging overseas has everyone on edge this particular Christmas season, making for good drama and lively performances. Songs and radio skits play out onstage as the show is being recorded to send to the troops.
True to form, there's a live band in the studio, and members of the FM Kicks jazz band help punch out tunes like Glenn Miller's "(I've Got a Gal in) Kalamazoo," George and Ira Gershwin's "Love is Here to Stay" and the Andrews Sisters' "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy".
"It's a musical for people who don't like musicals," says Darcy Brandenburg, who co-directs with his wife, Lauren Brandenburg. "It's really more like a variety show."
The Brandenburgs also direct the Gooseberry Park Players musical in the summer.
As the audience walks in, actors will be milling about in character, preparing for the radio production.
"The audience is part of the play from the moment they walk in," Lauren says.
Those involved with the production say that despite the live band and skilled actors onstage, the appeal of the show is in nostalgia, even for those who weren't alive at the time.
"When I think of Christmas, so much of the music I think of was all a product of that era —'The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire),' 'White Christmas,' 'I'll Be Home for Christmas'. I think there's tremendous nostalgic appeal to the show," says Adam Pankow, artistic director for the FMCT.
"You can't go through this show without a smile," Darcy says.
Neither the Brandenburgs or Pankow were alive in the 1940s or even in their 40s now. While the show may be set in 1942, the characters are recognizable even 75 years later as familiar types. There's the Italian tough guy who is a smooth crooner, the bubble-headed singer with the squeaky voice and the stressed out manager who tries to keep the show together.
Characters are trying to plan their next steps after the program ends. Some have big dreams of stardom while at least one knows he's off to the front line.
Though the show may be set at Christmas time, the band only plays a few holiday tunes, like the bittersweet "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas". "It's a show that reminds you to be grateful for what you have," Darcy says. "You can't go through this show without smiling."
If You Go
What: "The 1940's Radio Hour"
When: 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, same time next week
Where: The Stage at Island Park, 333 4th St., S., Fargo
Info: Tickets range from $7 to $18. http://www.fmct.org/ (701) 235-6778
The FMCT hosts WDAY Honor Flight Night on Saturday. Honor Flight veterans (and one guest) are invited to attend "The 1940's Radio Hour" show free of charge as a thank you for your service.
Archived radio shows from WDAY-AM will be playing in the lobby and merchandise, including the Honor Flight book "In Their Honor" will be for sale. (Cash and check only please). Complimentary food and drinks will be served prior to the show. Tickets are limited.
Call to reserve your ticket ahead of time to ensure space is available. A reception starts at 6:45 reception, followed by the show at 7:30. (701) 235-6778.