WHITEHALL — Can a cast of contemporary 10-to-17 year olds transport theatregoers back to London in the 1940s?
Not only The Shadow knows.
Adrianne Lewis also has a pretty good idea. She is directing 16 White Lake Youth Theatre performers in the Howmet Playhouse Summer Theatre Festival’s production of playwright Joe Landry’s three-pronged mystery “Vintage Hitchcock: A Live Radio Play.”
The show is set in a London radio studio before the advent of television. It dramatizes three movies that acclaimed British director Alfred Hitchcock made before he moved the United States.
There will be three performances at Whitehall High School: 7:30 p.m. July 26 and 28, and 3 p.m. July 27.
“I think, for most of the audience, it will bring them back to simpler times, when we didn’t have computers and limited access to television,” Lewis said. “It’s just like listening to the radio.
“We’ve decided that it would be beneficial to have the students put on a show in another time period. Many of them took the initiative and discovered events, styles of appearance, and what life was like in London during the 1940s.”
The “Vintage Hitchcock” film trio — “The Lodger” (1927), “Sabotage” (1937) and “The 39 Steps” (1935) — will be staged as a broadcast during what was known as the Golden Age of Radio.
In its heyday from the 1920s through the 1940s, the Golden Age of Radio featured such programs as the suspense series “The Shadow,” “Lights Out” and “Inner Sanctum”; comedies like “Fibber McGee & Molly” and “Amos ’n’ Andy”; and director/actor Orson Welles’ famous Oct. 30, 1938 Mercury Theatre on the Air adaptation of H.G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds,” a Halloween Eve production that 80 years ago convinced a lot of listeners that Earth was being invaded by the planet Mars.
Live radio drama was theatre of the mind and imagination: Voices, music and sound effects combined to create mental images that drew listeners around their consoles to “watch” the radio.
As radio actors did in bygone days, the WLYT performers will stand at microphones, scripts in hand. Not only will they play multiple characters; the actors also will create live sound effects.
“We have made car engine noises by turning the crank of a an old coffee grinder,” Lewis said. “We ‘strike matches’ using sandpaper and a bellow, and even create the sound of a heartbeat by using the lid of a storage box.”
The young people charged with pulling this off are Pearl Turner, Erin Kanaar, Kylie Kutches, Katie Trusty, Dylan Broton, Addison Broton, Eva Bower, Mikayla LaMay, Aidan Stembol, Olivia Stembol, Madelyn Stembol, Griffin Lownds, Miracle Batka, Jessica Lindsey, Jason Gould and Claire Woodrum.
It has been working, Lewis said.
“Many of the performers didn’t realize that our rehearsals would consist of voice work and using random objects to create sounds,” she said. “ … It’s a brand-new experience for all of the performers, and they’re having a blast.”
In addition to the three movies that Landry has adapted for radio, the show also references such Hitchcock film classics as “Rope,” “The Birds,” “Shadow of a Doubt,” “Suspicion,” “Spellbound” and “Psycho.”
Live radio drama included commercials and sung ditties, accompanied by live music (here provided by sound designer Servando Campos). “Vintage Hitchcock” includes commercials that will serve as inside jokes for those familiar with some of Hitchcock’s most famous movies: spots for a bird store, North by Northwest Airlines and the Bates Motel.
“Vintage Hitchcock: A Live Radio Play” is being underwritten by PNC Bank. The Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs is a sponsor for the entire season.
Tickets are on sale at Whitehall City Hall, by calling (231) 894-4048, and online at howmetplayhouse.org
Because Howmet Playhouse, 304 S. Mears, is being renovated, Theatre Festival shows this summer are being staged at Whitehall High School. They are being presented in the Black Box format, with audiences on stage with the actors. Seating is general admission.