Review: ‘Radio Gals’ is a fast-paced, feel-good treat

If there’s one thing the New Vic Theatre in Kalamazoo does exceptionally well, it’s down-home folksy storytelling with music. And that’s exactly what they have with “Radio Gals,” by Mike Carver and Mark Hardwick, which takes us into a delightfully kooky sort of Americana by way of retired music teacher Hazel Hunt’s front parlor where the Hazelnuts, a motley crew of local Arkansans, put on a radio variety show for the fun of it with a Western Electric 100-watt radio transmitter on their very own WGAL.

The only problem is it’s 1927 and the airwaves are fixin’ to be regulated by future president Herbert Hoover and his henchmen at the Department of Commerce. When one particularly earnest government employee knocks on the door to right the Hazelnuts’ pirating ways, he has no idea what’s in store for him. The gals use a shotgun, puppets, poetry, palm reading and Horehound Compound, the gin-like elixir that “brightens your attitude” and “kills weeds” they hawk, among other props and tricks, to win over the darling lad who turns out to have the makings of a Hazelnut himself, with his lovely tenor and mean accordion (that he happens to carry with him) despite his father’s admonition that “a true gentleman is someone who knows how to play the accordion but doesn’t.”

That about sums up the plot, which is just enough to string together the charming and silly songs they sing — like the one about kittens lost in the snow (with sock puppets and a “meow meow” chorus) — full of sweet harmonies, hilarious choreography (walk like an Egyptian, soft shoe, the Charleston and a little Hula with grass skirts all make an appearance) made funnier by the fact that it’s all ostensibly being performed on the radio.

Though it’s sweet, it never even dances on the edge of being saccharine because it’s so genuinely wacky. And what makes this show so very appealing is its truly excellent cast who appear to be having at least as much fun as the audience who are largely bowled over with laughter from start to finish.

Director James Furney has put together an ideal cast of actor musicians to convincingly bring this farcical musical to fruition. Each member of the ensemble creates a unique character, with mad musical and improvisational skills to boot.

Jennifer Furney is larger than life as Hazel Hunt, a terrific belter totally in command and oblivious at once; Sarah Lynn Roddis is a delightful Renabelle, inspiring laughs with her hysterical physical comedy and expressive face; Allison Ackerman is wonderful as the drama queen cum successful seductress and soprano Gladys Fritts, a wanna-be flapper who can’t escape her hillbilly roots, and she and the adorably charming Josh White make a terrific comedy duo. Jocelyn Furney is excellent playing guitar and ukulele as well as her character America, and though she never speaks a word, Heidi Cernik’s movements and props from behind the drum kit as Mabel Swindle speak volumes. Musical Director Wendy Wheeler accompanies and holds them all together with the piano and her own gorgeous voice.

Their characters and actions unfold on a set that’s a simple, cluttered, visual treat, and the show really moves, with never a dull moment in the perfectly paced 90-minute show that’s just a heart-warming, feel good, down-home hoot.

Radio Gals
New Vic Theatre
May 11-June 2