There are some delightful moments in Quad City Music Guild's holiday production A 1940s Radio Christmas Carol, including composer David Wohl's fantastic arrangements of classic carols, and inspired performances by some of the cast members portraying radio actors. When neither of these elements are present, there's also scenic designer Harold Truitt's layered, multi-level set with a plethora of pleasing décor, as well as costume designer Heidi Pedersen's impeccably-tailored period ensembles. It also boasts the fun of watching several local acting dynamos share the stage together.
Yet what didn't work during Wednesday's preview performance, aside from playwright Walton Jones' mostly unfunny script, was the pacing. Director Tom Morrow kept his actors busy with interesting movements, but the ever-so-slow flow of the presentation turned a 105-minute musical (according to the show's publisher) about a New Jersey radio station's 1943 dramatization of Charles Dickens' classic into two-and-a-half hours, including intermission. That's an extra 30 minutes of stage time that bogs down this production significantly.
Once we're past the first 45 minutes of radio-show cast members arriving and delivering their (seemingly unnecessary) back stories, several actors make the Radio Christmas Carol time bearable with impressively varied performances. John VanDeWoestyne, for instance, makes some smart choices in inflection as the philandering shoe salesman Fritz, who inserts ads for his shoes into his dialogue. He also elicited one of my biggest laughs while performing as the Ghost of Christmas Past. VanDeWoestyne uses a haunting sing-song voice to say "Scroo-oo-ooge" multiple times. However, when addressing Scrooge directly at one point, he delivered a short, straightforward "Scrooge" that seemed out of character, and was hilarious for it. The actor manages to pull more humor out of his lines than Jones wrote into them, and in a similar vein, Leigh VanWinkle - as the spotlight-craving Margie O'Brien - offers a laudable and laugh-worthy presentation of accents, including Minnesotan and Georgian, when performing a radio ad.
The big surprise for me, though, was Andy Sederquist. As momma's-boy "Little" Jackie Sparks, Sederquist seemed to play to the back row ... of the i wireless Center, which annoyed me to almost no end. However, once the radio-play-within-the-play starts, Jackie's youthful fervor and smile-inducing turns as Tiny Tim and the young Scrooge are enchanting. Michael Schmidt was also a bit of a surprise. Typically cast as goofy characters, Schmidt, here, plays William St. Claire, the arrogant actor hired to portray Scrooge, and the father of a son piloting a plane in the war. His height, shaved head, and goatee are enough to suggest his character's almost frightening authority. Yet Schmidt further sells it with a condescending air and, when playing Scrooge, appropriately over-dramatic turn that screams self-importance, particularly as William delays the radio play's progress to don unnecessary costumes.
The highlight of the show, though, is James Driscoll's Isadore "Buzz" Crenshaw, the performer responsible for the radio play's foley effects. He's fascinating to watch as he enthusiastically creates the sounds for a table being set, or a door being shut and locked, or heavy winds (the latter created using a short, conveyor-belt-like contraption). While visible in his position toward the back of the set, I wish Driscoll were even more visible on stage, because his actions are so interesting. And a close second is Harold Truitt's station manager Clifton Feddington. If the actor's natural charm and charisma weren't enough, his tap solo in the evening's opening "Jingle Bells" number made him a favorite of mine as he danced through a series of tap clichés with gusto. (I'll also give an honorable mention to John Weigandt's sandwich-selling Charles "Colly" Butts, for his portrayals of A Christmas Carol's "ethnic parts.")
My favorite song, meanwhile, turned out to be an unexpected one. This already overlong musical seems to never end as, once the radio play is finished, Jones attempts to wrap up a few of the actors' storylines with the men's final attempts to get the women to join them for drinks, and William and "Buzz" patching up their acerbic relationship. Then there's the curtain call, which is followed by yet another number. But that song, a remarkable arrangement of "Deck the Halls," is the best of the evening. It makes up for arriving so late in the night's entertainment with its harmonic intricacies as well as the song's applause-worthy by the cast and music director Peter J. Philhower's ensemble of musicians.
Even with noteworthy elements, Quad City Music Guild's A 1940s Radio Christmas Carol is still a rather dull affair, with its lengthy, laughter-less segments filled with Jones' mostly bland jokes. Yet while tighter pacing during the musical's official run could help considerably, the songs and the performance of them still make the show worth catching.
A 1940s Radio Christmas Carol runs at the Prospect Park Auditorium (1584 34th Avenue, Moline) through December 7, and more information and tickets are available by calling (309)762-6610 or visiting QCMusicGuild.com.