By Veronica Burniston
Broadcasting live on location from Mountain City, Tennessee, the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre (JRT) performed its 1940s USO Radio Show in Heritage Hall on Saturday, July 13, 2013. Beginning at 7:00 p.m., the performers captivated the audience with over 20 songs and choreographed dances, finally ending the night with a salute to the Armed Forces Veterans. With almost two hours of nonstop singing and dancing, JRTs energy and enthusiasm lit the stage like fireworks as they delivered not only laughs but history as well.
Directed by Jennifer Schmidt, JRTs 1940s USO Radio Show portrays the necessity of the radio during the early 1940s when the United States entered World War II. During those four long years of conflict after the United States declared war, the radio quickly became one of the most important elements within American households, providing the home front with information about the troops abroad and also giving the troops a chance to enjoy the entertainment and morale-boosting radio broadcasts of the USO Radio Show. To an extent, one might say the radio served as a bridge, breaching the chasm that in the past separated the world at home from the world at war.
Throughout the nights performance, JRT gifted the audience with group choreography, several instances of tap dancing, a short ballet, a handful of comedic advertisements, and a large variety of forties music. Some of the songs JRT sang included: Somewhere Over the Rainbow, That Old Black Magic, Hawaiian War Chant, Dancing Cheek to Cheek, Oh Danny Boy, Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, and more. The music, played by a live band, drew just as many smiles from the audience as the physical performance itself. And often more than one foot could be found tapping out the beat.
Another very noticeable feature of the 1940s USO Radio Show was the abundance of costumes and set designs. Practically every song was accompanied by a change of costumes. Some of these costumes incited memories and feelings of camaraderie, while others simply drew a chorus of laughter from the audience. The wide range of attire consisted of simple housedresses, flannel shirts and cowboy boots, military uniforms, patriotic dresses, lederhosen, grass skirts, a banana suit, and more – all of which helped set the mood for each song, advertisement, or event that took place, both solemn and humorous. Likewise, the frequent shifts in the temporary set (e.g. dinner tables to a clock tower) added to the overall movement of the show, creating a flow of color, sound, and nostalgia that helped the audience experience, some for the first time, the hope, creativity, and enthusiasm of the USO Broadcasts. The only part of the set that did not change was the red, white, and blue USO backdrop located behind the band.
Near the end of the Radio Show, JRT honored the veterans in attendance, singing several patriotic songs (Youre a Grand Old Flag, Any Bonds Today? etc.) and then asking them to stand when their branch of the Armed Forces Medley played. Each veteran received a miniature American flag and a grateful applause for their service in maintaining the freedom and security of the United States of America. At least two of the veterans in attendance served during the 1940s, the earliest entering the service in 1942.
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