Sweethearts of the 49th (Stage 39, CKUA Performance Space, Jasper Ave. downtown Edmonton)
With a provenance including the bright lights Andrea House (playwright), Davina Stewart (director) and Erik Mortimer (musical director) the chances are excellent that a smart and entertaining production will follow.
Proof positive is this touching, tuneful story set in Lethbridge, 1943.
Joanne’s (Gianna Read-Skelton) father, owner of radio station CIRK, has been taken off to hospital with heart attack symptoms. It’s up to the young daughter and her vocalizing pals Pixie (Madelaine Knight) and Lacey (Etta George House) to keep the station broadcasting. Avoiding “dead air” is no easy task though, since the trio hasn’t a clue what to do and CIRK’s programming resources are wartime meagre.
Enter a talented stranger named Maxine (Michelle Diaz) and everything changes. For the better. The Girls Next Door, a shaky vocal trio, morphs into a solid quartet. And Maxine (an homage to an Andrews sister perhaps?) is also a clever and enterprising dynamo who discovers other materials at hand, including a radio play script. All is well.
Ah, but of course it isn’t. There are secrets here, large and small, revealed slowly to us. Among other intrigues, we are confronted with Canada’s dark Second World War past regarding the shameful internment of Japanese-Canadians and — rarely explored — the very real grief-borne passions that inspired it.
Interspersed with the drama are a variety of well-executed period hits, including the likes of At Last, Straighten Up and Fly Right, Buffalo Gals and This Little Light of Mine. I confess to a tear or two witnessing Joanne’s lovely reading of I’ll Be Seeing You.
As you might expect from these pros, everything is properly in place here, from sensible direction and solid performances to costumes, set and house (small joke) sound and design. Too bad the otherwise decent performance space is downtown and sunlit, but what can you do? For, seeing this worthy effort at CKUA makes a great of cosmic sense given its proud, pioneering history.
– Alan Kellogg