Friday, December 9, 2011

Review: (Ottawa) The Shadow

(photo credit: David Whiteley)

Does The Shadow Know?
A Christmas Mysteries Radio Show
by Jim Murchison
The Shadow has been featured in comic books, comic strips,  television, video games, and at least five motion pictures. But it all started with the radio. The Gladstone Theatre has transported itself to that golden age.  “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!" was the catch phrase of its time. The ominous laugh sets the tone for a night of mystery. 
Their behaviour is at times scandalous.
As the audience enters the theatre, dancers are already cutting it up on the dance floor, testing out the new moves they learned at Arthur Murray's. Set designer, Ivo Valentik has recreated a live radio station of the 40’s, cleverly encased within a vintage giant radio. Microphones festoon the stage broadcasting live into the homes of their faithful listeners. Large art deco letters at the top of the set remind us we are listening to station CGLD.
There was a time when the hottest thing in technology was the radio. People gathered round the large box to listen intently to every word. Streamed live, people depended on it. They trusted it for the instant news it provided through the difficult times of wars and depression. They escaped into fascinating strange and exotic lands through the magic of comedy and dramas. None were more popular than the mystical vigilante called simply, The Shadow.  
To the best of my knowledge, none of the names of the characters performing The Shadow are names of actors who actually performed the characters through the 30’s and 40’s. Perhaps, “The names have been changed to protect the innocent.” Their behaviour is at times scandalous. Director Kel Parsons makes sure the studio audience gets some subtext of the actors’ personal lives through some off mike tomfoolery. Betty Balton (Michele LeBlanc) who plays the Shadow’s squeeze Margo Lane, is what you would politely call coquettish or flirty, but more appropriately to the era, she’s a floozy. Conrad Hamilton (Tim Oberholzer) plays Lamont Cranston as a more than willing mentor to a young actress, even if it means a little private coaching backstage. When not busy with comely actresses he plays the Shadow, a sleuth that clouds men's minds so they cannot see him. That’s a pretty cute trick if your hobby is solving mysteries. Jeannie Lewis (Katie Bunting) does the voices of many young boys in the Shadow, but she is all woman in her jealous reaction and contempt of her co-stars backstage shenanigans.
 Our Announcer Beverly Carleton (Allan Pero) either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care about the romances and jealousies of the cast members. It may be that he is too professional, but more likely than that; he must tend to his own voices of which there are many. The audience loved every one of them. It has been 20 years since Pero last played Ottawa, but it won’t be long until next time, if Ottawa has anything to say about it. 
The most important thing in radio is sound. Karen Benoit cast as the Foley artist is credited with “sound and general all round coolness.” I agree totally. Creaking doors, traffic noises to name a few are the products of a cluttered table of whistles, boxes and trunks. She brings the actions to life. Close your eyes and you know exactly what’s happening, but it’s more fun to keep them open and see how the illusions are created. In one memorable commercial break, the hilarious sound effects of a digestive system gone wrong would encourage anyone to run out and get some Carter’s Little Liver Pills, right away!
Christmas tunes sung by the Gladstone Sisters: Michele Fansett, Lori Jean Hodge and Laura Thompson help to get us into the seasonal spirit with festive harmonies. For snowbirds seeking retreat from the cold, Christmas Island with its Ukulele and Kazoo chorus should be particularly appealing.
Teri Loretto-Valentik provides additional atmosphere with her period costumes and props and the ubiquitous David Magladry does another fine lighting job. 
I have said nothing of the actual Shadow Radio Plays, but hey they’re mysteries to be solved later. I will tease you with the titles, “The Stockings Were Hung” and “Joey’s Christmas Story”. To get these little Christmas presents unwrapped you’ll have to go see the show.  

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