"A kind of radio which lets people at home see what the studio audience is not laughing at."
O.K., so I admit that I don't know exactly what popular radio personality Fred Allen meant here, since I found this quote out of context. But, were I to take a stab at it, I'd infer that it's a witty jab at television: There's nothing better about being able to see a show rather than simply listening to it. It's a lost pasttime, to gather ’round the radio and listen to a performance of an alien invasion story or a mystery, closing your eyes and imagining your own version of the scenery and the characters.
While generally I'm a fan of using the imagination over watching someone else's interpretation of a story (I almost always like the book version better than the film), Cory Moosman's Death Wore Elevator Shoes: A WYNOT Radio Theatre Show makes watching radio seem like a must.
As I mentioned in my March 4 preview, "Hard-boiled broadcasting", WYNOT uses tons of props, sound effects and voices, but I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of the characters and accents. Moosman captures the old-time-radio-man sound better than some old-time radio men themselves. (Well, at least he's funnier, and prone to memorable facial expressions). Marvin Hays showed extreme adaptability with accents ranging from honky tonk to Indian to Irish New York cop. Lara Hays plays ball with the men as the saucy radio siren Lily St. Beaudeux, holding her own in a man's radio world with her fluent wit and her impeccable delivery.
As Dr. Striker in the Rick Luger: Private Dick mystery segment, Paul Abeyta employs a giddy German accent, and it works for laughs. Sammie "Joe" Kinnett, who you may have seen in Theatre ’d Art and FAC productions, also shows a knack for accents. Both Abeyta and Kinnett flubbed a line or two early in the show, but finished strongly. (Maybe that was in the script?)
It was only my third time watching Sammy Gleason on stage; the first two were Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Theatre Company productions. In A Christmas Survival Guide, he played multiple goofy, dancing characters, and in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street he played the young boy, Tobias. As I watched the show, it occured to me that Gleason's radio personality, Jackie Lamont, has characteristics of the goofy, spirit finger dancer and of the naive and simple Toby. (Jackie's biography in the program says that he got his start in show biz as a tap-dancing child star on Broadway at age 2, and he acts like he's not quite grown up yet.)
When Gleason read a fake commercial spot for Folly Gop Hair Cream, I heard him as Toby, singing, "There, you'll sample Mrs. Lovett's meat pies/ Savory and sweet pies as you'll see You who eat pies Mrs. Lovett's meat pies conjure up the treat pies used to be!" He had Londoners lining up for Mrs. Lovett's mysterious meat pies, and he can sell you on goopy hair product. (Well, maybe you'd buy it if pomade wasn't so 1930s.)
In the detective story, Gleason, not surprisingly, plays a bungling rookie cop character. I couldn't tell if the dunce persona is just the type of role he's been cast in, or if Gleason brings that mannerism to the characters he plays, so I asked Moosman for a little insight. He told me that when he writes the biographies for the radio personalities, he tries to base it on the actor. (A few actors rotate in and out depending on availability, each with their own radio personality.) It all makes sense now. Seeing Gleason in other roles will show how versatile a performer he is. For WYNOT radio, being a goofball works well for him.
While it's radio you can see, watching the show on stage instead of imagining the scene doesn't change the community experience of radio. When I saw it on opening night, the audience was lively and engaged throughout the show. During intermission, two women sang a few bars from an old song, laughing and reminiscing about younger days. A man sitting near them said that he was almost sweating just watching them.
This is not your average theater production. It's more intimate and the laughs keep rolling till the end.