Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Out of the City and On the Air

It should be noted that I drove not only out of the city but twelve miles from home tonight for the express purpose of experiencing something new: a live radio broadcast.

The On the Air Radio Players presented an original script adaptation of the 1935 Hitchcock film "The 39 Steps" as it was originally broadcast by the Lux Radio Theater in December 1937 starring Robert Montgomery and Ida Lupino (whoever they were) at the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen.

"Welcome to the show," the producer said to the audience and the night took off. We were asked to practice clapping in time to the green "Applause" light and were warned that the shots that would be fired for sound effects would be blanks.

We were told to silence our cell phones to avoid the possibility of anachronistic sounds in the recording. Because, yes, this live radio broadcast was also being recorded for 21st century podcasting. Sigh.

The two sound guys came on stage and took their places, the music maker sat down in front of her keyboards and the eight actors, all in black, took their chairs before the "On the Air" light was lit and the show began.

Host Cecil B. DeMille began by doing short interviews with the two stars, asking them about their recent vacations and activities, complete with sound effects like kissing and tennis balls bouncing; it was a foreshadowing of what was to come.

In between acts, the actors did commercials for Lux Suds, the show's sponsor, touting its gentleness in washing nylons and for Lux Super Suds ("Even when I dry clothes in the basement, they look whiter!"). It was incredibly dated and very sweet at the same time.

The same could be said of the script, which focused on espionage and murder in London and Scotland. References to "a driver in a donkey cart" were quaint, to say the least.

And there was a love story, with the couple ending up handcuffed together against their will. Naturally, that forced an alliance that led to true love.

Her: "We were together for 24 hours and we fought for were asleep for four."
Him: "Can you imagine fighting for breakfast, lunch and dinner? Do you think we could keep that up for 30 or 40 years?"

As good as the music was with a tinkling piano for a party and heavy organ music for dramatic scenes, it was the sound effect guys who stole the show.

They slammed, battered and knocked on their fake door, blew a train whistle and made the sounds of train tracks, shook a tambourine when gypsies were mentioned and shot a lot of blanks at the ceiling.

And being the good little audience, we clapped on cue and stopped clapping on cue (that part was definitely more challenging). The one-hour program had three commercial breaks before tying up all the loose ends neatly and going off the air.

The OTARP only do three productions a year and the next one's not till June, but I'm already looking forward to it.

It was really unlike anything I've experienced and between the vintage script, extremely well-done dialects (both the Scottish and Cockney accents were spot-on) and variety of sound effects, thoroughly entertaining. Oh, yes, and free. Is this a great town or what?

That was a tough act to follow, but free jazz at the Camel has a lot to recommend it, too. Tonight's show led off with the Compass Rose Orchestra, an octet of mostly VCU jazz studies students who undoubtedly took their name from students' favorite campus meeting place.

I was most excited by the fact that I got to hear vibes played live; it's a bulky instrument and it's rare to see them played out. Even better, I knew the guy playing them because we'd met and sat together at the Folk Fest last fall. This is such a small town.

Crowded as they were onstage, their set had a sure-handed sound and included everything from Radiohead to Rufus Wainwright to an original piece written by Lucas Fritz, "...back when I was in a metal band in high school." Ah yes, because all aspiring jazz trumpeters originally gravitate to metal.

The crowd, with a high parentage of musicians in it, stuck around for UTV, a seven-piece unique for both their jazz vocalist and female flugelhorn player. As one guy shouted to the band on his way out, "You guys keep on tearing it up!"

Had I still been at the radio show, I would have expected to hear a piece of paper being torn at that point.

Brought to you, of course, by Lux Suds. Cue applause.


  1. Karen- This sounds like it was really fun to see - wish I'd known about it beforehand!!

    Your postings are a pleasure to read, addictive almost. Nice work.

  2. It's not too late, Curtis. We have another show tonight. Come on down (or up, actually).

  3. Curtis, you definitely should check it out! The OTARP did a great job and it's wildly entertaining to experience something so retro. Go, man, go!