While sitting in the audience of Tanya O’Debra’s Radio Star (Directed by Peter Cook) you may be tempted to close your eyes and pretend you’re sitting around the 1941 Philco radio with Dad smoking his pipe nearby while little Sally sits on the floor doing her arithmetic and Billy works on his model air plane. Breathe in deeply enough and you can smell that meatloaf mom is cooking! Yes, you may be tempted, but I’d suggest keeping your eyes open to enjoy every delicious hand-in-a-tap-shoe bit of foley art you can drink in. For while it would be just as much fun to stage direct the story in your mind’s eye, the real joy of Radio Star is watching Ms. O’Debra seamlessly transform herself from saucy dame Fanny LaRue to hard-boiled private dick, Nick McKittrick, to dopey company schlep Wally, to hearty Irish Cop with little more than a change of facial expression. Welcome to Radio Star, where the year is 1941, the story is decidedly campy, and the anachronisms are made of easter eggs.
This show is an homage to the days of radio, and as such, you can forgive the Mac planted solidly atop Mr. J. Lincoln Hallowell, Jr.’s desk from which all the little cleverly disguised hissing and popping commercials and other Andrew Mauriello-composed ditties emerge … just as you can forgive the water bottle Ms. O’Debra sips from. (What did radio personalities drink from back before plastic? Glass bottles of Nehi Grape Soda?)
Radio Star is a show within a show; we’re not there to watch a woman put on a show, we’re there to pretend we’re in a different era watching a woman putting on a show – a “radio star” who has no problem acknowledging that her audience is there to watch her work, but then quickly lowers the invisible shield which allows her to get down to business. O’Debra’s version of a radio star is charming as well as talented, and while she easily could turn an arched brow toward the audience during her down time moments, throwing us an “ain’t I great?” kinda wink, she doesn’t, and that’s nicely played.
The innuendos are plentiful and when they’re in danger of becoming too plentiful there’s a nice self-referential hand smack that acknowledges how part of Ms. O’Debra’s joke as a playwright is seeing just how far a joke can go. In her deft hands, she manages to give more steam to some than you’d expect.
Every now and then there was a reference that stuck out a bit and played for cheap laughs, pulling me out of the rhythm of the piece . . . but those moments were rare. Still, if there was any criticism I’d give to Ms. O’Debra it’s that the overall pacing of her show is so snappy and quick that slowing it down with a few clunkers isn’t necessary when laughs were already so plentiful and dialogue already so deft. Then again, you never know what’s gotten a big laugh at a prior show, and Ms. O’Debra may know her audience better than I do … I have a feeling that if she’s keeping that Clinton joke in there, she knows it’s working for her.
Radio Star is actually on its second go-round; it’s been extended from its January run and I highly suggest that if you can get over to the Red Room over these next few days that you do so. Radio Star will leave you with a huge appreciation for the very talented Ms. O’Debra, and a bit of a hankering for those good ole days.
~~~Radio Star Written by: Tanya O’Debra Directed by: Peter Cook The Red Room (85 East Fourth Street) To purchase tickets go to: www.smarttix.com or call 212-868-4444 Tickets are $15; Students and Seniors $12 Remaining Performances – 2/18-2/20 @ 8pm