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Set in rural Cedar Ridge, Arkansas, in the 1920s, Raleigh Little Theatre’s frisky presentation of Mike Craver and Mark Hardwick’s delightful down-home musical Radio Gals is more successful in its concert sequences than in its comic interludes. The cast puts a nice polish on the musical gems in the show’s songbook, but the show falters whenever its improbable romantic subplot involving high-strung and ultra-eccentric WGAL radio station singing sensation Miss Gladys Fritts (Susan Burcham) and fussy U.S. Department of Commerce investigator O.B. Abbott (Don Smith) takes center stage.
Gladys Fritts is a plus-sized singer with mercurial mood swings. She flits around the stage dabbling in all sorts of supernatural silliness. By contrast, O.B. Abbott is a prosaic government bureaucrat and all-around fusspot with a permanent frown. When O.B. unexpectedly arrives in Cedar Ridge to investigate accusations of channel jumping against retired music teacher and WGAL radio station owner/operator Hazel C. Hunt (Jo Brown), Gladys falls for him like a ton of bricks (pun intended). Their unconventional courtship is supposed to add a frisson of romance to Radio Gals; this plus-sized reviewer just wishes they’d shut up and sing.
Burcham and Smith don’t have the requisite romantic chemistry to make their unlikely liaison seem possible, but they make beautiful music together and separately. Greg Dixon (piano) and Brent Wilson (upright bass and guitar) provide animated instrumental accompaniment and comic relief — in drag — as Mabel and Azilee Swindell sisters; Jo Brown is a pip as the irrepressible Hazel Hunt; and Katherine Hennenlotter (violin) and Rose Martin (drums) sing and play up a storm as America and Rennabelle Hatch.
Director Haskell Fitz-Simons sets a brisk pace, choreographer Nancy Rich devises some dandy dance routines, and musical director Greg Dixon gets vibrant vocals and energetic instrumentals from his talented cast of singers and musicians. Technical director and set designer Jim Zervas does an outstanding job of recreating Hazel Hunt’s parlor-turned-broadcast studio in loving detail, lighting designer Andy Parks artfully illuminates the onstage hijinks, costume designer Jenny Butler dresses the cast in a vivid array of 1920s fashions that residents of rural Arkansas might have worn, and sound designer Rick LaBach creates a feast for the ear to complement the feast for the eye devised by scenic designer Jim Zervas and costume designer Jenny Butler.
Raleigh Little Theatre presents Radio Gals Thursday-Saturday, June 5-7, 12-14, and 19-21, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, June 8, 15, and 22, at 3 p.m. in the Cantey V. Sutton Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607. $18 ($15 students up to college age and seniors 62+). 919/821-3111 or via a commercial ticket broker linked from the presenter's site.
Note: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive listening devices are available for all shows. Raleigh Little Theatre: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/. Radio Gals: http://www.mikecraver.com/radgals.html (Mike Craver’s web site) and http://www.lortel.org/(Lortel Archives—The Internet Off-Broadway Database).