The musical partnership of Matt Conner and Stephen Gregory Smith has produced their fifth new musical under Creative Cauldron’s “Bold New Works for Intimate Stages” musical theatre commission project. They were asked to produce five new musicals in five years, and they have done so, rather gleefully it seems. The works have run the gamut from the first, and beautifully eerie, “Turn of the Screw” to an anthem for women reclaiming their voices and power in “Witch” to this final work, a loving and nostalgic look at the start of radio, “On Air.” As the coda to this amazing venture, it ends on a high, hopeful note.
. . . this is a lovely show about hope and dreams and a time when America still seemed to be excited about progress and believed that yes, we can.
The show is anchored by Jimmy Mavrikes as Frank Conrad and Nora Palka as Flora Conrad—and the casting is genius. Not only do both actors’ voices blend beautifully together, but there also is real chemistry between them and you believe in them so deeply as a couple/partnership, you want them to have a good life.
They are well—and hysterically—supported by Erin Granfield as Agnes Davis/Ensemble and Garrett Matthews as Dr. Harry P. Davis/Ensemble, as well as Robert Aubry Davis as the Radio Voice, and Owen Thiebert as their son, Francis, and the young Frank.
Through the show’s brisk, clearly identifiable scenes, we get an overview of the first radio “station” to broadcast. From the earliest scenes, we understand where his father’s philosophy of “a little further now” when you have a problem to solve or an idea to make real shaped the young Frank. We get to watch the really funny courtship of Flora and Frank–and thank goodness she took the initiative and started the courtship, which led to broadcasting history. After WWI, we share in the excitement of women getting the right to vote, and the game-changing of their little radio station (run out of their garage and living room—the latter sometimes inadvertently) broadcasting breaking news. And we are lucky enough to get a glimpse of a partnership that embodied patience and love and mutual respect.
The show opens with Flora being photographed in her late husband’s workshop and being interviewed for a retrospective of the station and the start of broadcasting. There’s a lovely moment as we step back in time with her, and Frank glides out of the shadows and joins her, and the rest of the cast, in “Roaring” a whiz-bang song that sets the tone and place immediately.
The show packs a lot into the 90 minutes—including 15 songs—and does so artfully and gracefully. It’s a dreamy evening with a couple at the center that embodies the hopes and dreams of a country roaring into a new age. And it’s pretty funny as well—this is one of the funniest shows Smith and Connor have written together.
In other words, this is a lovely show about hope and dreams and a time when America still seemed to be excited about progress and believed that yes, we can. It’s an idyllic view, but given the scope of the book, it’s apt.
Scenic designer Margie Jervis deserves kudos for immersing the theatre in the set—on all the walls are various “On Air” signs that glow at key points. The radio booth is cunningly fit into the side of the garage part of the set, where Frank devised his broadcasting concepts and engineered them into reality. Alison Johnson, the costume designer, has done a smashing job with the period clothing, and lighting designer Lynn Joslin creates a concept that heightens the sense of a time when everything was young and possible.
Warren Freeman is the music supervisor, and Refiye Tappan is the music director and pianist.
Advisory: Cigarette smoking; some theatrical haze.
Running Time: Ninety minutes straight through with no intermission.
Show Information: “On Air” runs from May 2 – 26, 2019 at Creative Cauldron, Falls Church, VA. For more information, please click here.