Early in my career, I worked at KIRO radio in Seattle. Our legendary host, Jim French, who had spent years in radio theater, once told me the world lost something when television was invented.
“That’s when we lost the art of imagining,” he said.
Back in the day, families huddled around their radios, listening to the adventures of Charlie McCarthy, a ventriloquist dummy voiced by the late comedian Edgar John Bergen. Couples listened to the Andrew Sisters, Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra. Classic comedians like Fanny Brice brought slapstick to the airwaves. Radio was often like a member of the family, drawing people together as they were entertained. But behind the scenes? Well, creating early radio was a sort of madness, filled with special effects and people impersonating various voices.
The old days of radio have provided lots of opportunities for storytelling. Radio features prominently in everything from “A Christmas Story” to the beloved musical “Annie” and public radio’s “A Prairie Home Companion.”
Now you can experience the excitement of radio again, mixed with the magic of the holiday season and good music along the way, in “A 1940s Radio Christmas Carol,” which brings together screwball comedy, fantastic music and plenty of nostalgia for the old days of radio. The production runs at Vashon Center for the Arts Dec. 20-22 and 27-29, featuring an impressive crew of local actors.
The show is co-directed by mother/daughter team Marita and Elise Ericksen, who, between them, have years of experience with Drama Dock. The cast includes Rich Wiley, Joel Kutzke, Hailey Quackenbush, Christopher, Gabriel and Dawn Dawson; Jesse Whitford, Lisa Peretti, Shannon Flora, Erica Wagner, Sue DeNies, Russell Baker, Paul Stephenson and Marita Ericksen as “Toots Navarre,” the musical director, composer and pianist for WOV-Radio.
The show takes place on Christmas Eve of 1943. The Feddington Players are presenting their contemporary on-air version of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” The group has lost its performing space and is now broadcasting from the lobby of a hotel. Between noisy plumbing, missed cues, power outages and more, expect plenty of radio show mayhem.
Combining delightful swing-era music and lyrics with dramatic, crazy plot twists, many funny moments, some heartbreak and much hope, “A 1940s Radio Christmas Carol” is a musical mixed with a radio show mixed with a holiday program mixed with a screwball comedy.
The show is an opportunity for mother and daughter directors Marita and Elise Ericksen, long-time Drama Dock and Vashon Center for the Arts directors/actors.
“I have fond memories of making theatre with Drama Dock and my family. My dad is gone now, but I love working with my mom and all of our cast members,” said Elise Ericksen. “The Drama Dock family is what theatre-making is all about. From our family to yours, come enjoy this holiday classic.”
She applauded the work of several directors she has worked with over the years.
“I learned so much from watching them direct the many shows I participated in and I am happy to be working with Rich and Sue Wiley again,” Elsie said. “I most enjoy this original take on ‘A Christmas Carol’ with a 1940s spin. I love the music of the 40s and I feel like I was born a generation late.”
Marita Ericksen said one of the best parts of the show is the opportunity to co-direct with her daughter.
“It’s my first time co-directing a show with Elise for Drama Dock and I’ve come to admire my daughter’s ability to lead a group of multi-talented performers with grace and precision,” she said.
The cast features some beloved community favorites, including Rich Wiley as a prominent role. Wiley has had roles in more than 30 Drama Dock productions over the years and seeing the local theater master in yet another role sure to delight is reason enough for the price of admission. Then there is Hailey Quackenbush, who was a fan favorite as adult Tommy in last year’s Drama Dock musical of the same name. Apart from them, the cast also includes a family (Christopher, Gabriel and Dawn Dawson) in the historic Drama Dock tradition of providing families chances to create theater together.
An old-fashioned screwball comedy about the golden days of radio? Complete with Christmas music done in 1940s style? Featuring our own local actors? It sounds like a recipe for nostalgia. And in this day and age, what could be more fun than to experience a little nostalgia (as well as musical comedy) this holiday season?