The premiere run of ON THE AIR, City Theater Company’s original musical about a 1941 radio soap, is something of an experiment. Still in the workshop stage, it’s a work in progress, and the company wants audience feedback to polish it up and help it evolve into a finished piece. That said, ON THE AIR is not a disjointed rough draft, and it certainly doesn’t feel unfinished.
Set in New York City in early December 1941, the show revolves around the cast, writer and producer of the radio soap opera “Sunshine Day.” The long-running show is on its last legs, with war looming and the demographic aging. There are hopes that a relocation to Los Angeles will breathe new life into the series, but they begin to drain as it becomes clear that the show’s players have been deemed disposable. As the characters’ worlds seem to be coming to an end, the newscast, delivered by the show’s peppy jingle singers, edges closer and closer to December 7th, The Day That Will Live in Infamy.
It’s a great concept, brought together by Kevin Regan and Joe Trainor. The soap is campy, with Kerry Kristine McElrone, Paul McElwee and Dylan Geringer as Scarlet, Raymond and Patty, the show’s lead actors, delivering stories of scandal and heartbreak into the microphone while announcer Tobias, played by the always scene-stealing Adam Wahlberg, supplies sound effects with everyday objects. Matt Casarino and Jill Knapp cut in to deliver the ever-important advertising messages.
The show’s writer, Jeff, played by Michael Gray (who also directs), is desperate to keep his job even as he receives word that he’s redundant. His wartime storyline is cut mid-episode, leaving producer Frank, played by Jim Burns, to come up with a new story on the spot. This leads to a (very funny) power struggle as the two compete to write what will be the last episodes. Alongside the story of the show’s struggles are romantic plots and character bonding.
The songs live up to any stage musical, with standouts including “It’s All About” featuring Patty and Frank, the Ensemble piece “Whatever Happens Gonna Happen,” and the humorous showstopper “The Key to My Heart.” While humor is in great supply, there is also a dark undercurrent, with moving pieces like “The War.”
It all comes together very well, and I’d be curious to see what aspects are changed for the final production. The use of umbrellas in “The War,” is interesting, but I couldn’t quite decide whether it worked or not. And while I liked the dramatic (and noisy) tossing of the script pages to the floor during the radio show, I couldn’t help thinking that the point of dropping the papers instead of turning pages was to make it less audible. Overall, I really didn’t see any glaring issues — it’s shaping up to be a quality musical with a terrific cast.
ON THE AIR
Book by Kevin Regan
Story by Kevin Regan and Joe Trainor
Music & Lyrics by Joe Trainor
Music by Matt Casarino
Directed by Michael Gray
Musical Direction by Joe Trainor
February 22 – March 2, 2013
City Theater Company
4 South Poplar Street,
Wilmington DE 19801