Also see John's review of Menopause the Musical
On the Lower East Side of Manhattan lies a dusty, old radio repair shop called Dr. Radio. The aged proprietor, Benjamin Weitz (Benji), prepares to close up the shop for the final time and move in with his daughter Catherine. As he faces closing up his beloved store, he reminds himself that "you can't get to the future until you know the past." Benji joyfully recalls the Golden Age of radio (early 1920s to mid-1950s) and the life he once lived on the long forgotten street where Dr. Radio is located. The street holds more than his storeit holds the memories of his favorite tale. It is his own personal tale of a greedy banker (Penny McAdams), a hidden treasure, a Latin lothario (Rudolpho Garcia), voices from beyond the grave, and finding his true love (Kate Cuorecantare). In his retelling of this supposedly true story, it becomes more like the exaggerated old radio dramas and romances of which he is so fond. Whether real or exaggerated, having relived his tale one last time, at the end of the day he leaves the store behind, ready for his new future and secure in his past.
The Florida Stage makes good use of their space for this production. The downstage moving walkway assists transitions, adds visual interest, and actually helps establish a feel for a character when used by Beth Dimon as Madame Pilchowa. The costumes and some props (such as the bank safety deposit boxes) are intriguingly more colorful, enhanced versions of what would authentically match the time period. It is in keeping with Benji's inclination to exaggerate his tale of the past and the theatrical feel of a radio play as well. It is all just slightly bigger than life. It may be a flaw that, for the audience, the line between a possible remembered radio program and Benji's real life is at times blurred. The use of the announcer's voice on the radio leads to uncertainty, and we want to know where the focus of the story line lies. Establishing old Benji from young Benji would be helped by an appearance from his daughter at the beginning of the show, as her appearance at the end feels almost unneeded. Also, although we live in South Florida which is filled with Spanish speaking peoples, too many Spanish terms of endearment uttered by Rudolpho fly by without us knowing what they mean. It actually was annoying to hear only a handful of people in the audience laugh heartily at these terms, because the majority were not in on the jokes.
The live band is unseen but clearly heard as they play the well written music of Dr. Radio. McGovern and Castellino have provided the appropriate structure and development of an old fashioned musical. There are memorable melodies ("The Love I Have For You," "History" and "Keep Livin"), well written harmonies and appropriate reprises, all very well sung by colorful characters. Irene Adjan is perfectly cast as the fashionable villainess, Penny McAdams, complete with wicked laugh. Her costumes are adorable, thanks to the work of Mark Pirolo. While she doesn't have great chemistry with Nick Duckart as Rudolpho, this appears to be a directorial choice. Though darkly handsome, his character is made a bit buffoonish through his overly solicitous nature toward Penny. She in turn treats him as arm candy of a pragmatic nature rather than a romantic one. Duckart does an admirable job, and merengues up a storm, though one would wish his character was not written with the stock character stereotyping prevalent in the time period in which radio plays were popular. It is a tad un-PC by today's standards.
True to the bigger than life aspect of the show, the character of Madame Pilchowa is given over the top treatment by Beth Dimon. Bedecked with turbin and shawl, her false Hungarian accent is mysterious-sounding enough to fit that of a fortune teller. She does a great job with what is truly the hardest song in the show. In "That Is Vot I Read" she must switch back and forth between accents, tempos and physicalities as Madame Pilchowa channels a deceased Irish woman during a seance. Wayne LeGette as Benji and Margot Moreland as Kate Cuorecantare are the heart of this production. There is a warmth and sweetness to their characters apart and together. This new musical by McGovern and Castellino has great sentimental appeal and well-seasoned performances bound to leave a smile on your face.
Dr. Radio will be appearing at the Florida Stage through May 2, 2010. The theater is located in Plaza del Mar, at 262 S. Ocean Blvd. in Manalapan. Stay tuned for their scheduled relocation to the Rinker Playhouse of the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach, FL this July, starting with the show Low Down Dirty Blues. Florida Stage performance days/times are normally Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 p.m.; Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoon at 2:00 p.m.; and Sundays at 7:00 p.m.. Tickets and other information may be obtained by calling the box office at (561) 585-3433 or (800) 514-3833, or visiting www.floridastage.org.
Florida Stage is a professional theater, with extensive programs for young artists, hiring Equity and non-Equity performers from across the United States. Florida Stage is a member of the Theatre Communications Group, the League of Resident Theatres, the Florida Professional Theatre Association, the National Alliance for Musical Theatre, and the National New Play Network. They are funded in part by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the county of Palm Beach Tourist Develop.m.ent Fund and the Florida Arts Council, with generous support from The Shubert Foundation, The Heckscher Foundation for Children, The Duane & Dalia Stiller Charitable Trust, Gulf Stream Lumber, Northern Trust Bank of Florida N.A., Fidelity Federal Bank & Trust, and hundreds of individuals and corporations. The Florida Stage remains the only professional theatre in Southeast Florida producing exclusively new and emerging works.
* Designates member of Actors' Equity Association: the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
**Designates member of United Scenic Artists
***Designates member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society