Harlequin returns to its Stardust roots with ‘The 1940s Radio Hour’

From left, Nathan Rice as Lou Cohen, Xander Layden as Wally Fergusson, James Dean as Johnny Cantone, and Miguel Pineda as B.J. Gibson in “The 1940s Radio Hour.”
From left, Nathan Rice as Lou Cohen, Xander Layden as Wally Fergusson, James Dean as Johnny Cantone, and Miguel Pineda as B.J. Gibson in “The 1940s Radio Hour.” Courtesy of Harlequin Productions

Harlequin Productions is continuing its long tradition of holiday musical revues as it opens its first season under the leadership of acting artistic director Aaron Lamb.

The company is heading back to the roots of the tradition with “The 1940s Radio Hour,” Harlequin’s first holiday show.

“Radio Hour,” set in 1942, gives audiences a look at a live radio broadcast.

“The audience will see the broadcast as it actually happens, complete with the frenetic preparations beforehand, the transition into the live show, a Foley table for sound effects, etc.,” said Lamb, the production’s director, music director and bandleader. “I’m trying to capture the chaos that surrounds a production and the moment when it suddenly all comes together.”

Harlequin first produced “Radio Hour,” by Walton Jones, in 1992. Its success inspired 22 years of original Stardust revues, helmed by Linda Whitney, who founded the company with her husband, Scot Whitney.

The Whitneys are no longer with the theater. Scot Whitney resigned in March amid controversy about how he handled a 2011 allegation that visiting playwright Israel Horovitz sexually harassed a Harlequin actress. The board terminated Linda Whitney’s employment in September.

The return to “Radio Hour” honors the legacies of Linda Whitney and Stardust, Lamb told The Olympian.

“Fans of Stardust should feel right at home,” he said, citing “a similar ragtag cast of characters, similar situations impeding the production at hand and, of course, a similar lineup of musical classics like ‘Blue Moon,’ ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,’ ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’ and many others.”

He and assistant director Maggie Doyle, who appeared in the last six recent Stardust productions as Stardust Club co-owner Joy Higgsby, are looking to keep the Stardust spirit alive.

“The Stardust magic centers around the heart of each character,” Doyle told The Olympian. “Despite what is happening in the world of the show or what transpires during the show, it all comes together. A character gets thrown into a song they haven’t rehearsed, and like magic, they perform it beautifully. Everyone, audience and cast, is closer by the end. The magic makes us family.”

For Doyle, the Stardust magic did exactly that. She and her husband Christian Doyle kindled their relationship while acting together in the shows.

“Stardust is where I fell in love with my husband, and on New Years’ Eve (closing night) two years ago, he proposed,” she wrote in her director’s note. “Stardust helped make Harlequin my home.”

Edsonya Charles plays Ann Collier in “The 1940s Radio Show.” Patrick Long Courtesy of Harlequin Productions

Doyle is far from the only Stardust regular involved in “Radio Hour.” The cast includes Stardust vets Edsonya Charles, James Dean, Andy Garness, Bruce Haasl, Xander Layden, Christie Murphy-Oldright and Miguel Pineda.

Garness plays drums in the show’s five-piece jazz band, which also includes longtime Harlequin bassist Rick Jarvela, who was in the first Stardust and many others; trumpet player David Stedman; and Aaron Wolfe on saxophone.

‘The 1940s Radio Hour’

  • What: Harlequin Productions revisits the holiday musical revue that was its first holiday show back in 1992.

  • When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday plus Dec. 5-8, 13-15, 19-22 and 27-29; 2 p.m. Sunday plus Dec. 9, 16, 23, 24 and 30; 3 p.m. Dec. 15, 22 and 29; and 7 p.m. Dec. 31

  • Where: State Theater, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia

  • Tickets: $49, $45 for seniors and military, $25 for students and youth; for the Dec. 5 performance, pay what you can.

  • More information: 360-786-0151, harlequinproductions.org