Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"Dr. Radio" Deserves an A for Amition

New Musical is a Work in Progress at Florida Stage

"Doctor Radio" is in a world premiere run through May 2 at Florida Stage, 262 S. Ocean Blvd, Manalapan. The show deserves an A for ambition.
Creators Christopher McGovern and Bill Castellino hatched their all-original period musical from scratch in record time.
The production deserves an E for execution as well, as director Castellino has assembled a top-flight cast of Florida professionals who could put a polish on any material.
As for content let's call it a C+, because live radio is but a distant memory for many people, and the characters in this fable are right out of central casting.
I am old enough to have been born at the tail end of the Radio Age. I listened to more radio than most kids my age because my family traveled a great deal in the first eight years of my life. Radio was the only entertainment we had on long, pre-Interstate trips from the Northeast to Florida and back again. I was the last kid on the block to have a television at home. My old man didn't spring for one until I was seven. Even after we had television I loved to tinker with old radios and listen to broadcasts from as far off as New York and Chicago.
So I related to the character of Dr. Radio, whose name is Benjamin Weiss, a radio repairman portrayed by the wonderful, multi-talented tenor, Wayne LeGette.
OK, it's a little strange that LeGette is half the age of his character, and stranger still that an actress who may be his age or older plays his daughter and his wife.
I cut 'em some slack on these oddities, because this is a fantasy, and I still dig old radios. Tim Macabee's antique-filled set is a marvel to behold.
The story is set on New York's Lower East Side in the late 1940s or early 1950s, when television was still a new-fangled product. Benjamin Weiss thinks television is a just a passing fancy, but his empty shop betrys the growing popularity of the visual medium.
Weiss has been in a funk since the death of his wife Catherine. His grown daughter Kate wants him to close his shop and move in with her.
The fact that Catherine in flashbacks and Kate in the present are both played by Margot Moreland is a bit disorienting, but comedy or drama, Moreland is alway up to the task.
Another versatile singer-actress, Irene Adjan, plays the heavy: greedy landlady Penny McAdams. Her comic relief sidekick, Latin lover Rudolpho Garcia, is played hilariously over the top by Nick Duckart, replete with cheap, garish suits and pencil-thin moustache.
Adding to the wacky mix is is resident psychic Madame Agnieska Pilchowa, played by yet another versatile powerhouse, Elizabeth Dimon.
If you have ever tried to write a song you'll know how difficult it was for writer Bill Castellino and composer-lyricist Christopher McGovern to whip up 16 new original songs that advance the story. In their previous collaborations, well-known songs were interwoven with originals. This score is all original.
Most of the tunes are semi-serious novelety numbers, but there are several nice ballads, such as Kate's "The Love I have for You" and Benji's "I Will help You Sing Again," and the anthem "Keep Living."
As a work-in-progress, "Dr. Radio" is pretty darn good entertainment. Its motto: "You can't know the future until you know the past," is timeless.
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