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'Old Time Traveling Radio Show'

Next Stage Repertory's new musical takes a nostalgic look at the days when radio variety shows were broadcast live around the country. "Old Time Traveling Radio Show," written by Gwen Overland and Doug Warner, is filled with songs from the '40s and comedy skits and commercials written with the same flair of that era.

The story introduces a traveling troupe of radio performers whose bus breaks down in Medford. Stranded, the performers scramble to make their "on-air" deadline by broadcasting from the Craterian Theater. "Cowboy Carl," "Detective Nick Savage," "The Adventures of Kitty and Marge" and "Aunt Betty's True Life Stories" all come to life in Overland's and Warner's wacky take on the golden age of radio.

It's the first musical comedy produced by Next Stage Repertory, and a welcome break for artistic director Warner and his company.

"Next Stage has done some really intense dramas like 'Molly Sweeney,' 'Duet For One' and 'The Glass Menagerie,' " he says. "This show is something more goofy and fun with singing and a little bit of dancing. I get to play guitar, and Gwen gets to play piano. We wanted to keep things fun for the audience and the cast. We're having a blast."

Performances are set for 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Jan. 3-4, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 10, and 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 11, at the Craterian Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford. All tickets cost $18 and can be purchased at the box office, 16 S. Bartlett St., online at www.craterian.org or by calling 541-779-3000.

Warner has cowritten and performed in more than one radio show written for stage, he says.

"The thing about '40s radio is that it reflects a simpler time in America. The commercials and the marketing used back then sound comical compared to what we're used to today. Advertisers made many false claims with slogans such as 'more soothing than any other leading brand.'

"Gwen and I used that same approach to come up with funny commercials for fictional products. We started working on it about a year ago, listening to old radio ads for Wrigley's chewing gum and Camel and Lucky brand cigarettes. We came up with Bentley's chewing gum and Old Liberty cigarettes, and we wrote the jingles for them," Warner says.

"Most of our research came from Google, where we discovered phrases like 'the cat's meow' and 'don't put a snap in your cap.' We peppered the musical with that language to give it the flavor of the period."

Local actors Adam Cuppy, Arlene Warner, Presila Quinby and Jade Chavis-Watts, along with Overland and Warner, appear in "Old Time Traveling Radio Show." All good singers, songs from the '40s were chosen to match each actor's skill set.

"The songs are the glue that holds the play together between commercials and skits," Warner says. "There are about 20 songs included in the play. Most were hits in their day. There's Hoagie Carmichael's 'Georgia on My Mind,' 'Let's Take the Long Way Home' that was made popular by Rosemary Clooney, Jule Styne's 'It's Been a Long, Long Time' and others."

Look for Frank Loesser's "Baby, It's Cold Outside," "Why Don't You Do Right?" recorded in 1941 by Lil Green, and a novelty song, "Never Hit Your Grandma With a Shovel," by H.W. Hanemann.

"The music is one of the great things about that era," Warner says. "Some of those performers go all the way back to vaudeville and Broadway and eventually performed during the early days of television. Variety shows like Ed Sullivan's really came from radio.

"Then there are the skits and the radio troupe's sound effects guy," Warner says. "His name is Stanley and he's really the bus driver. So he creates all of the wrong sound effects. We get a lot of comedy out of that role.

"Radio shows are now their own genre, and lots of them are being written for the stage. There's a great nostalgic element to them," he says.

Gwen Overland plays Fern in 'Old Time Traveling Radio Show.' The musical was cowritten by Overland and Doug Warner. - Bob Pennell