Old-time radio has had a dedicated cult of followers for about 90 years now, and live recreations of old-time radio productions have been knocking around the stage for quite a while. Right now, L.A.’s still got a few troupes doing OTR and reader’s theater—but none of them are (or really, have been) as distinctively authoritative as Fake Radio, who have brought their version of H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds” to Trepany House at the Steve Allen Theater in Hollywood.
“Authoritative” is just the word to use here, because as often as any of us might have listened to the original Mercury Radio Theater production from 1938 (starring Orson Welles), we’ve seldom heard voice performers on the live stage that could match the original Mercury cast’s polish and conviction. These aren’t talented amateurs or capable stage actors taking a poke at OTR for giggles—they’re all actors clearly chosen for having real radio voices, the kind you know would’ve actually been stars in radio’s golden age.
There’s more, of course, to the show. Fake Radio’s cast is talented in improv and comedy, and that’s all to the advantage of a clearly scripted and highly dramatic show like “War of the Worlds.” Under the direction of David Koff, these actors know how to work a line for a laugh—which we see in a short, funny prelude piece about Orson Welles—and they know how to turn the comedy off, putting you in the grip of their tale of Martian horror.
It’s hard to pick standouts from the cast, given that they all acquit themselves superbly. Hat tips must be given to Chris Bonno’s bomber pilot scene, Erin Fitzgerald’s slide from gentle humor to impending panic, Koff’s own doomed reporter and Dave Cox’s dead-on vocalization as Orson Welles-as-Professor Pierson. Accompanied by original music and sound effects, they give us a marvelous science fiction horror show that visuals just can’t equal.
Guest stars abound with Fake Radio, too (though I specifically chose to see a performance that was with only the main cast); well-known actors from TV, film, animation and more regularly appear with them in their shows. In their remaining shows, Mark McKinney of THE KIDS IN THE HALL will guest-star on October 17 and Phil Proctor of The Firesign Theatre troupe will appear on October 31.