Thursday, December 9, 2010

"A Christmas Carol" told radio theater style at SVSU

by Janet I. Martineau/Review
Ahhhh, the good old days of live radio theater.
When a sexy, gum-chewing, spotlight-hogging hussy was cast to play Tiny Tim of “A Christmas Carol” fame -- and the little tyke’s sister too.
Wait. That’s what happened just this Thursday night, in the year 2010, at Saginaw Valley State University when a live radio recreation of the Charles Dickens tale opened a short three-day run. 
Find the time to treat yourself to this hour-long romp. It is nostalgia at its best in a day and age when live television theater is a rarity let alone live radio theater. SVSU faculty members Ric Roberts and David Rzeszutek teamed up on the script -- adapting both the 1843 Dickens story and the famed 1939 radio broadcast of it with Lionel Barrymore as Scrooge and Orson Welles as the narrator.
It’s all there. The lit On Air and Applause signs. The old-time microphones and clothing attire on the cast of 15. The unlikely casting decisions in a day and age when visuals were not an issue, with the players casually drinking coffee, snoozing and vamping when seated and not saying their lines. The sound effects duo of Ashley Evans and Craig Wyse kept busy rattling the chains of Marley, clinking the glasses at a party and closing doors.
And professors Roberts and Rzeszutek joining their students on stage as the radio announcers for pretend-WSVU’s broadcast of the Christmas classic. Roberts even spent some time researching old Life magazines to write their commercials for Pall Mall cigarettes, the Kodak Brownie priced at $2 and the Hoover vacuum -- as well as a surprise commercial hitting closer to home.
The funny (and fun) visuals find Amanda Mueller getting a case of the vapors and shaking the hands of other cast members as her character prepares to portray the Ghost of Christmas Past ... siren Danielle Schoney as the Crachit kids and vying for the best spot  in a shoving match with the actress (Stephanie Wohlfeil) playing her mother .... David Ryan as Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Past dutifully using a  pencil to check off each set of lines on his script after he speaks them.
Rusty Myers, straight from a dynamic performance as Stanley in SVSU’s “A Streetcar Named Desire,” is cast as Scrooge and carries the lion’s share of lines with the proper amount of gruffness. He does less of the off-microphone antics than the rest of the cast but, then, he is rarely not speaking. Chad Baker is near-perfect as the nervous Bob Crachit.
If there is a complaint, it is that in several places the seated cast members sing Christmas carols as a backdrop for the action. Softer, please, softer. You are drowning out the spoken lines.

Roberts said the plans are to do a Christmas classic live radio theater adaptation for at least the next couple of years, with “It’s a Wonderful Life” slated for 2011. He sought to get a local radio station to actually air one of this year’s performances, to no avail sadly.
But bravo for the concept of finding a new (or is that renewed) way of telling really old warhorses. It is  also likely that most Americans alive today have no concept of what live radio theater was like, and this clues them in on a great piece of history -- and doing it presents a few unusual challenges to the school’s theater students in that they are playing both their characters and their character’s characters at the same time, as well as having to act while holding and reading from a script.
It’s a win-win for those on stage as well as in the audience. And at the end, out in the lobby, the cast members hand out candy canes to all the good little boys and girls who attended.

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