Step back in time as Elgin Theatre Company presents 'An Elgin Old Tyme Holiday Radio Show 3'

  • Peggy Lyons, left, and Rick Johnson appear in the Elgin Theatre Company production of "An Elgin Old Tyme Holiday Radio Show 3." The recreation of three classic radio broadcasts will take place Nov. 15-24 at the Elgin Art Showcase.

    Peggy Lyons, left, and Rick Johnson appear in the Elgin Theatre Company production of "An Elgin Old Tyme Holiday Radio Show 3." The recreation of three classic radio broadcasts will take place Nov. 15-24 at the Elgin Art Showcase. Courtesy of Elgin Theatre Company

 
By Jamie Greco
Daily Herald correspondent
Posted11/15/2019 6:00 AM

The Elgin Theatre's Company's production of "An Elgin Old Tyme Holiday Radio Show 3" is designed to transport the audience to the time when the most prominent stars performed on the radio -- in dramas, situation comedies and variety shows -- and families listened at home. But instead of pulling up a chair, today's audience will watch in the theater as the show unfolds.

Performances are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, Nov. 15-24, at the Elgin Art Showcase, 164 Division St., eighth floor, Elgin. Tickets are $20, $18 for students and seniors, and available by calling (847) 741-0532, emailing tickets@inil.com, or on the website, www.elgin-theatre.org.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Jack Benny, Fibber McGee and Molly, and "Our Miss Brooks," all stars and characters of the radio shows that preceded television, will be portrayed in the show.

"The goal is to bring it alive and make people feel like they're watching that program come to life," said actor Stephen Pickering of Fox River Grove, who portrays Jack Benny.

"When the audience comes to see the show, what they can expect to see is a model of what they used to do in old time radio shows," said director Brian Scholz. "Mics set up and holiday decorations. We represent the shows as they would have been presented during the time in which they occurred."

Radio shows saw their heyday in the first half of the 20th century when families would settle in to hear favorite performers and genres portrayed in purely audio form. Jack Benny was an enormous star of the time who worked in vaudeville before and television after his radio stint.

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"I really had to reach out and tap into Benny, to some recordings and refresh myself," Pickering said. "He has a specific way to approach timing and to capture the voice. It's interesting to play someone who really existed. I've done that a couple of times because it's intimidating and fun at the same time. What I try to do is to capture him and his persona without doing an impersonation."

Pickering was well aware of Benny before winning the part, referring to himself as a "weird kid" who was intrigued by Jack Benny after learning former "The Tonight Show" host Johnny Carson was a fan and developed his style from Benny.

"So I used to listen to old radio shows that were recorded on album," Pickering said. "It's kind of a thrill to play Jack Benny in this program."

Shirley May Byrnes, left, and Jim Dixon will perform in the Elgin Theatre Company's production of "An Elgin Old Tyme Holiday Radio Show 3."
Shirley May Byrnes, left, and Jim Dixon will perform in the Elgin Theatre Company's production of "An Elgin Old Tyme Holiday Radio Show 3." - Courtesy of Elgin Theatre Company
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The other two shows, although also popular in their day, are probably mostly forgotten by today's audiences.

"I was very familiar with Jack Benny," said Scholz, of Bartlett. "That pregnant pause. He was very famous in his time. But, 'Fibber McGee and Molly' and 'Our Miss Brooks,' it took a little time to get their quirks."

"Fibber McGee and Molly" was a phenomenally successful radio situation comedy about the adventures of a blue-collar married couple between 1935 and 1956; it ran for 1,611 episodes. "Our Miss Brooks" was also a successful sitcom about a sardonic high school teacher. It ran on radio from 1948-1957 and transitioned to television from 1952-1956. Richard Johnson of Bartlett plays Fibber McGee.

"I did the show last year and had so much fun with it, so I thought I'd go ahead and try it out this year," Johnson said.

A veteran performer in more ways than one, Johnson began acting in the Air Force.

"This show is my 88th different show," he said. "I used to work for the airlines for 43 years outdoors every day, and I did a lot of theater at night. I just love being up on stage and performing and being someone else, singing different songs."

This show is quite a different experience for him, however.

"It's funny doing a show you don't have to memorize the script. There are no dance steps or choreography. It's just you and a bunch of friends interpreting a piece of work," Johnson said.

Because the original radio shows were presented in audio only, the actors read the lines as they went along, a concept that might seem odd to younger people who might come to see the show. But Pickering believes kids will enjoy seeing how radio entertainment was produced.

"We're putting in some Christmas carols, and it's about everybody getting together to enjoy themselves over the holidays," Johnson said. "That's the main purpose of the show, and that's what we're striving for."

• • •

Elgin Theater Company's "An Elgin Old Tyme Holiday Radio Show 3"

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, Nov. 15-24

Where: Elgin Art Showcase, 164 Division St., eighth floor, Elgin

Tickets: $20, $18 for students and seniors

Details: Call (847) 741-0532, email tickets@inil.com or visit www.elgin-theatre.org

• • •

The cast

Aurora: Peter Cuneo, Sharon Cuneo, Harry Davis

Bartlett: Richard Johnson, Lenore McBean, Joey Scholz

Carpentersville: William Petersen

Elgin: Dwight Brown, Shirley May Byrnes, Peggy Lions, Renee Merrill

Fox River Grove: Stephen Pickering, Jessica Kovarik

Lake in the Hills: James Dixon

Palatine: Neal Heatherly

Streamwood: Corey Cook

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