News Column

Navasota Theatre Alliance brings radio days of 1940s to the stage

June 9, 2013


June 09--Before there were MP 3s and CDs, before cassettes and 8-tracks, even before TV, there was radio. After supper each night, families would gather around the bulky box in the living room to listen to Fibber McGee and Molly, The Lone Ranger, Jack Benny and Bob Hope.

And then, as the Shadow knows so well, there were the suspense shows. These programs were very realistic. Orson Welles' 1939 Halloween radio production of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds sent much of the nation into a panic, with many people in full belief that Earth had, indeed, been invaded by aliens from Mars.

Unlike TV and the movies, the actors on those great old radio shows had to create a scene with only their voices and a handful of props. The audience had to believe, as they certainly did when they laughed along with ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his wooden alter-ego Charlie McCarthy. Think about it a moment.

Those days of great radio dramas and comedies is long gone, but for the next three weekends it will live again when Navasota Theatre Alliance presents Steve Cleberg's Radio Suspense Theatre.

Director Earlene Rainey said, "It is a touching and comical tribute to the golden era of radio.

"A group of radio performers from the 1940s prepare to present their weekly radio program, Radio Suspense Theatre as the new girl, Jessica, is shown the ropes by the effervescent Morty Sparks.

"The behind-the-scenes lives of the radio performers become tangled as they present two great mysteries, Fear Between Floors, and Lost and Found. So it is a show within a show!"

The cast includes Steve Gochenour as Morty Sparks, Jessica Gochenour as Jessica Cornell, Renee Gosling as Lauren McNair, Gwynn Worbington as Katherine Conway, Michelle Wagley as Gracie Wilson -- with Mary Lee Aguinaga as understudy -- Thomas Maske as Allen Burns, Tanya Gochenour as Lois Lange, John Baldwin as Richard Dunlap, Jonathan LaRose as Sonny Carlson, Jared Gochenour as Ned Styles, Trevor Maske as Billy Hardy, Matthew Gustitis as Douglas Beverly, Madeline Maske as Sandy Sawyer, Gary Anderson as Rico Bandella and Marjorie Maske as Dorothy Doyle.

Rainey said, "It is a touching and comical tribute to the golden era of radio. It is fun and suspenseful and yet requires the audience to participate in the show by using their imagination as they only see the actors reading the radio script 'on air' as an actual studio audience would have done in the 1940s.

"They also get to learn how the sound man and piano man used various items, records, etc., to make the sounds and emotions of the show come alive."

She said the audience can expect "a fun time with some laughs and lots of suspense and mystery, radio style!"

And, Rainey said, there will be three solos from the era sung by Renee Gosling and Marjorie Maske.

Radio Suspense Theatre opens Thursday and runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. through June 30. There also are 2 p.m. matinees on June 16, 23, 29 and 30. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and students and $5 for children 10 and younger. Navasota Theatre Alliance members may purchase tickets for $8. They are available by calling 936-825-3195. or online at

The play will be in the Sunny Furman Theatre at 104 W. Washington St. in downtown Navasota, just a short drive from Bryan-College Station and Brenham.

On opening night, from 6:30 p.m. to 7:15 p.m., there will be a free ice cream sundae bar sponsored by show sponsor Blue Bell Creameries. In addition, there will be a reservations-only dinner theater at 6 p.m. June 22, featuring grilled chicken, potato salad, asparagus, glazed carrots and chocolate cake with Blue Bell ice cream. Tickets for both dinner and the show are $25. Tickets for the show only will be available.

Rainey said, "There is certainly not anything objectionable about the show content, but it would probably not hold a young child's attention. Plus, the radio shows are about murder and are quite suspenseful, so a parent should use their best judgement, but there is no foul language involved."

Day job

Working 9 to 5. What a way to make a living, right?

Well, in the 1980 movie 9 to 5, that's what three women did, despite less-than-desirable working conditions and sexual harassment from Franklin Hart, the overbearing, sexist boss, played so well by Dabney Coleman. The women were played by Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and, in her screen debut, Dolly Parton, who also wrote and sang the bouncy title tune. In the end, the women take control and make the office a much better place to work.

People loved the movie, making it the 20th highest-grossing comedy film in history and No. 74 on the American Film Institute's "100 Funniest Movies."

In the movie, Fonda portrays Judy Bernly, a sweetly naive woman forced into the workplace when her husband squanders all their money and then runs off with his secretary. Parton's Doralee Rhodes is a smart cookie who puts up with but never gives in to Hart's advances. Tomlin plays Violet Newstead, who holds the office together while dreaming of getting rid of the boss.

If you loved the movie -- and who didn't -- you are in for a treat this coming weekend when The Theatre Company opens its two-week run of 9 to 5, the 2008 musical of the movie. Parton wrote the music and lyrics, while Patricia Resnick, who co-wrote the movie, handled the book. When it premiered on Broadway in 2009, 9 to 5 featured Allison Janney (West Wing) in the Tomlin role, Megan Hilty (Smash) in the Parton role, Stephanie J. Block in the Fonda role, while Broadway veteran Marc Kudisch portrayed Franklin Hart.

9 to 5 didn't last long on Broadway, but had a successful national tour and London run. Now, it is coming to area audiences for the first time under the always capable direction of Theatre Company artistic director Randy Wilson.

"The musical 9 to 5 stays very close to the storyline of the film," Wilson said. "It also brings out the heart of these women. It is just a remarkable character-driven piece."

Wilson said, "I think it's a great fit our community, what with the great Tony-nominated score by Dolly Parton. I also believe it's indicative of the current Broadway climate.

"So many new musicals are based on famous movies. 9 to 5 is a show with a great big heart and has wonderful roles for women. It's not very often that we find a show with such well-drawn characters for the plethora of talented women have living the Brazos Valley. You are all going to be amazed at the wonderful performances onstage in 9 to 5 at the Theatre Company," Wilson said.

A strong cast will head the local production, with Cynthia Bradford as Violet, the irrepressible Adrienne Dobson as Doralee and Cesara Walters as Judy. Audience favorite Justin Dollar has the time of his life playing Franklin Hart.

The musical opens with the women singing the Parton hit 9 to 5. Wilson said, "The rest of the score I hadn't been familiar with, but I guarantee everyone will go out humming the sensational songs from this score."

9 to 5 runs opens Friday and runs Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. for two weekends. Tickets are $20 for evening performances and Sunday matinees. There is a special reduced price of $15 for Saturday matinees. All tickets for seniors 55 and older and students with a valid student ID are $15. Children 12 and younger get in for $5. They are available at the box office prior to each performance and at the Arts Council of Brazos Valley on Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. They also may be purchased online at

Show underwriters are The Principal Financial Group, Southwest Business Center, David M. Watson; and Eric and Joey Wylie of Element Retirement & Investment Consultants. Orchestra underwriter is Clockwork Games & Events, while Kay and Mark Simmons are underwriting the costumes. Mark and Beverly Taylor of, as always, are the marketing underwriters.

9 to 5 is the next to last show of the current Theatre Company season, with Monty Python's Spamalot coming in August. What a wonderful theater season this has been and next season promises to be as good and even more spectacular, with a major show opening the season in the fall.

Make plans to attend the new season preview party at 7 p.m. om July 28 at the theater behind JoAnn Fabrics and Crafts in Bryan's Tejas Center.

Wilson said, "Prepare to be wowed by next season's line-up. I know you're going to want to see every one of the shows. It's an amazing season!"

Flower power

Keep Brazos Beautiful and the A&M Garden Club are hosting Carnival Cornucopia, a summer flower show, from 1 to 5 p.m. today at the College Station Hilton. The show will include a variety of floral design and horticulture aspects with entries by Garden Club members.

Admission is by donation at the door, with proceeds benefiting Keep Brazos Beautiful.

For more information, go online to

A great evening

The Unitarian Universalist Church of the Brazos Valley invites the public to an evening of poetry, music, comedy and drama on June 21 at 6:30 p.m. Refreshments and coffee are provided. There is a $5 suggested donation.

The church is located at 305 Wellborn Road, just south of the Texas A&M campus in College Station.


--Through June 23 -- Gilded Age Grandeur: Mount Washington Art Glass, Forsyth Galleries in the Texas A&M Memorial Student Center,Tuesdays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 6 p.m. Free

--Through July 5 -- George Bush Library and Museum presents Genome: The Secret of How Life Works (691-4000,

--Through Aug. 31 -- Toy Time, an interactive, hands-on exhibit of giant-sized folk toys from the past 200 years, Star of the Republic Museum at Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site off Texas 105 between Navasota and Brenham. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. (

--All Month -- Children's Museum of the Brazos Valley in Downtown Bryan offers a rotating series of six programs weekdays at 10:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. (779-5437,

--Every Sunday -- Open mics and poetry slams sponsored by Mic Check Poetry, 8:30 p.m. Revolution Cafe in Downtown Bryan. (

--Send items for Arts Watch by noon Tuesday to


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