Denton High School students are doing it old school in the school’s multi-department musical, The 1940’s Radio Hour by Walton Jones.
The light comedy celebrates big band jazz, American pop classics a la Sinatra, and scrappy underdogs singing their hearts out on a radio station that is last in the ratings. The play uses popular music from the era — “Love Is Here to Stay,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” and “God Bless the Child” among others — to underscore a story about a long-suffering producer and the performers who struggle to hoist up their radio show from the barrel’s proverbial bottom.
Senior Charlie Forester nabbed the juicy role of hard-drinking, smooth-crooning Johnny Cantone, the featured singer on The Mutual Manhattan Variety Cavalcade. Cantone means to keep a secret about his future during the live broadcast of the Cavalcade at the Hotel Astor’s Algonquin Room.
“He’s a hero. People look up to him,” said Forester, who sings with Denton High’s Chorale, Chambers choir, the barbershop quartet known as the Chords Men and the show choir. “He’s a jerk. He’s leaving the show for Hollywood, and this is his last show. The only thing is, no one knows this.”
Cantone has plenty of distractions to keep him from obsessing about his eminent departure. He’s a ladies’ man who can work an audience and a room. Trouble is, Forester said, Cantone likes his liquor. Will he let the news slip once he tosses back a few drinks?
Cantone isn’t the only character with a secret.
Junior Joey Bautiste, a member of the school’s Chorale, Chambers, Chords Men and show choirs, plays Pops Bailey, a cranky stage doorkeeper who supplements his income as a racing bookie and spends it on Showgirl magazines.
“Pops only really cares about Ann,” a featured singer on the Cavalcade, Bautiste said. “He has a soft spot for Ann, a crush on her. They’ve both been there a long time.”
Pops provides some comic relief in the show. Bautiste contributes his bass to the show just as he does in the Denton High choir program. It makes sense for the gruff and grouchy Pops to have a deep voice.
Geneva Lee Browne is a match for Johnny Cantone in the star-quality department, and in the bratty behavior department. Junior Megan Graves, who was recently selected as first chair of the alto I section in the All-State Choir, plays the part and said she’s having a good time of it.
It can be fun to play a difficult person, she said.
“Geneva is sassy. She’s flashy and loud and she makes an entrance,” Graves said. “She’s always late and won’t hesitate to insult you or call you a name.”
Then there’s Pops’ secret favorite, Ann Collier. Sophomore Darby Birdwell plays the role.
“Ann has been at the station for a while,” Birdwell said. “She loves being there and loves what she does. She’s got a house and a kid. She’s dating Johnny, but they’re down, not doing well.”
With Johnny blinded by the Hollywood stars in his eyes, what will become of Ann?
“At the end, she has a moment with Pops,” Birdwell said. “They’ve both been there the longest.”
Radio Hour contrasts the professionals with the fresh faces who hope radio might lead them to something bigger and better in show business.
Junior Ariana Bencid, an alto, said her character, Ginger Brooks, is a newer member of the Cavalcade cast. Brooks has just turned in her waitressing apron for a spot in front of a hot microphone.
“She’s bubbly, and what you’d call a firecracker,” Bencid said. “She’s very open about herself. I think that, ultimately, she would like to further her career.”
And out of all the ladies on the show, Ginger isn’t fond of Cantone’s game.
“She doesn’t like Johnny at all,” Bencid said.
Freshman Courtney Lawson and sophomore Carter Owen play fresh Cavalcade members Connie Miller and Neal Tilden.
“She’s a very peppy person, very happy to get into the swing of things,” Lawson said, describing the starry-eyed Connie. “Everyone else thinks the show is a dump, but she’s happy to be there. She looks up to Ginger Brooks, she’s in love with [Cavalcade singer] BJ Gibson, but she has a crush on Johnny.”
One member of the cast isn’t a singer, but provides a lot of music. Senior Seth Cope plays the role of Biff Baker, a trumpet player and soloist with the Cavalcade orchestra who will soon ship off to do a tour of duty with the Army.
“I’m the straight man to everyone,” Cope said. “He plays a lot of solos, and sings on ‘Jingle Bells.’”
Cope plays in the Denton High wind ensemble and with Lab Band 1, the band program’s top jazz band. He said he didn’t get too much preparation for the show in the lab band.
“The second and third lab bands play big band [jazz] music,” Cope said. “The first lab band plays modern jazz.”
Cope will be joined by some of his peers in the play as the Cavalcade orchestra.
“We’re probably going to have to have a few extra sectionals,” he said. “The singers have to sing, but we have to play with the other band members and with the singers. I think we’ll do OK.”
Cast members said they enjoyed working with other fine arts programs at Denton High to put the show together.
“I love musicals,” said Graves, who sings with the Chorale, Chambers, show choir and the women’s choir, Harmony. “I love the fact that we bring characters to the stage. It feels real to me, like we really are doing a two-hour live radio show.
Bencid got bit by the theater bug in 2012, when Denton High staged the musical version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
“I got to work with all these great cast members,” she said. “My favorite part of this show is probably the cast and working with them. I’ve known most of them since I got to DHS.”
Forester said his biggest challenge in the show is embracing Cantone’s womanizing ways.
“I think being smooth with the ladies, that’s what’s getting me,” he said. “Having to get into that mentality of ‘I can get anyone’ isn’t easy for me.”
Lawson shares Forester’s challenge.
“Acting like I’m in love isn’t so easy,” she said.
Bautiste said his challenge is a little more elementary.
“Definitely, I have to get all my lines memorized,” he said. “And, yeah, having every aspect of the character covered so everyone understands him.”
Birdwell said her biggest challenge is animating the songs instead of just singing them.
“The hardest part? Probably just putting the character in the songs,” she said. “Singing is one thing. Acting is another. Putting them together is work.”
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877.
The 1940’s RADIO HOUR
What: Denton High School Theatre Arts, Choir and Band departments present the musical with a book by Walton Jones and music by various composers.
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and Feb. 6-8; 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Denton High auditorium, 1007 Fulton St.
Details: Tickets cost $10 for adults, $5 for seniors and students, and will be available at the door. Discounts are available for groups and active members of the U.S. military.
Cast and crew
Denton High School’s “The 1940’s Radio Hour”
Clifton Feddington — Jordan Brown
Ann Collier — Darby Birdwell
Johnny Cantone — Charlie Forester
Ginger Brooks — Arianna Bencid
Geneva Lee Brown — Megan Reeves
Biff Baker — Seth Cope
BJ Gibson — Jeremy Stone
Wally Ferguson — Grayson Gwilliam
Zoot Doubleman — Jesse Woolery
Neal Tilden — Carter Owens
Connie Miller — Courtney Lawson
Pops Bailey — Joey Bautiste
Stanley — Jonathan Peterson
Java Jive Singers — Haleigh Nevener, Madi DeHart, Alex Meimers, Alex Cates, Michala Wawro, Sammy Guerrero, Raine Richter, Cierra Sasiain and Trinity Garner
Dancers — Elizabeth Barron, Will Cates, Gabe Wawro, Carissa Walker, Sammy Guerrero, Raine Richter, Cierra Sasiain and Trinity Garner
Vaudeville Players — Joi Bailey and Jonathan Bernal
Candy Girls — Vashti Reidt, Steffi Watkins
Producer — Mark Baker
Director — Darrell Muncy
Vocal directors — Mark Baker and Patti Freeman
Stage manager — Mango Qualls
Jazz band director — Jesse Woolery
Set design — Jeff Winkler
Light design — Jeff Winkler
Sound — Brian Wilson
Choreography — Kerri Burgess
Costumes — Shaelynn Wolfe and Lilia Dean
Publicity — Donna McClendon
Accompanist — Tim McGaugh
Technical crew — Eric Molina, Derek Premenko, Brand Richter, Shelby DuPont, Miranda Olson, Tommy Locker, Madison Beach, Courtney Tober, Ryan Carr, Alexis Holland, Taylor Olson, Kaeley Qualls, Sydnie Martin, Allison Hamilton, Morgan van Aken