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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Virtual ‘Fibber McGee and Molly’ hits the spot in New London

Critic At Large

Wolf River Theatrical Troupe and City of New London

Scene from Wolf River Theatrical Troupe’s ‘Fibber McGee and Molly.’ (Warren Gerds screenshot)

NEW LONDON, Wis. (WFRV) – COVID-19 has thrown many curves, and more can be found attached to Wolf River Theatrical Troupe and the radio play “Fibber McGee and Molly.”

A re-creation of an episode of the show that was popular from 1935 to 1959 is available at the Facebook sites of the Fox Valley’s Attic Chamber Theatre, where I bumped into a reference to the video, and the City of New London, the co-producer.

The 19-minute production is fun, fascinating, nostalgic, surprising and entertaining.

The video is introduced by Margie Brown, founder of Wolf River Theatrical Troupe, which has supplied “plays, guest artists, children’s theater and more” for 38 years.

Margie Brown. (screenshot)

Margie Brown notes the impact of the pandemic on the troupe – such as bills to pay. She adds, “To quote The Unsinkable Molly Brown, ‘We ain’t down yet’.”

The production is surrounded by points of fascination.

+ The episode is shot in black and white, to capture the aura of the era when black and white was a force in movies and ruled in the 1940s and 1950s in television.

+ Members of the troupe perform in front of a standard microphone of the heyday of radio, even though they wear wireless headsets for recording purposes.

+ Heard laughing or applauding in the background is an in-person audience in a location that is not identified. The performance as a “live” feel.

+ The players hold scripts that they read. As is often the case with re-created, in-person radio plays, the actors still react off of one another and fill their performances with body English and voice inflections. This especially is the case with Tommy Micke as Fibber McGee and Molly Brown as Molly McGee. Extra special is Molly Brown’s vocal touch with saying “McGee.” In the original shows, Fibber McGee’s wife said the name in a distinctive way, and director Margie Brown and actor Molly Brown seem to have concentrated on defining that name in inflection.

+ Even though the performance is just people standing in front of a microphone, multiple cameras are used for variety. Added are some slick camera moves. One is a shot that starts with focus on the “APPLAUSE” sign at the front lip of the stage that continues to move upward and then bring the Fibber and Molly players into focus. The production is more than point-and-shoot.

+ Sound effects are included, as in the original show. This time, whenever effects person Debbie Martin opens or closes a door or has stuff from Fibber McGee’s cluttered closet crash to the floor, she is seen doing the act in an image inset into the actor’s action. Again, the production is more than point-and-shoot.

+ The show includes commercials from the real deal, now delivered by cast member Mark Grossman.

City of New London site. (Screenshot)

+ The video is not posted on the Wolf River Theatrical Troupe sites by only on the Facebook site of the City of New London. My take: The municipality is making use of some of its technical resources and expertise to do a favor for a one of the city’s cultural resources.

+ I happened to find out about the video while checking on Attic Chamber Theatre, Inc.’s sites on the Internet to see what the troupe is up to. Searching for updates is something I do with area arts entities. Attic posted the video and asks, “Support our friends at Wolf River Theatrical Troupe.” Hey, that’s what friends are for, correct?

+ For its part, the City of New London’s site notes, “Wolf River Theatrical Troupe is one of several local organizations that’s been hit hard by COVID-19. Show your support by checking out their old-time radio drama ‘Fibber McGee and Molly.’ Let’s keep theater alive and well!”

+ Not that I’m an expert on municipal Internet sites, but New London seems to hold its highly.

As for the story, the style of the humor is of a time past, but funny still is funny.

The episode is set in motion by the word “annihilate” – which Fibber and Molly both murder in pronunciation. They want to look the word up in their dictionary, which happens to be in Fibber’s precious and junky landslide of a closet. Fibber says the closet holds his “personal defects.” Opening the closet wreaks wreckage, of course – and noisy sound effects.

Side stories pop up. Like the Little Girl (Olivia Peterson) who tells Fibber her mother thinks her brother swallowed a dime. The Little Girl says it was not a dime. “It was only eight cents,” she says. “We were playing slot machine, and I fed it to him.”

And Molly McGee is filled with turns of phrases, like: “Oh, McGee, I’ve just about exhausted my impatience with you.”

***

The basics

Creative: Director – Margie Brown; lights and sound – Christopher Berberich; sound effects – Debbie Martin; production – Wolf River Theatrical Troupe in association with the City of New London; video – City of New London

Cast

Fibber McGee – Tommy Micke

Molly McGee – Molly Brown

Announcer – Mark Grossman

Little Girl – Olivia Peterson

Gildersleeve – Tom Vinji

Sites: City of New London Facebook, Attic Chamber Theatre, Inc. Facebook

***

So there it is – something from the past that a cast clearly enjoyed bringing back presented in a format the originators never dreamed of and given the tip of the hat by a municipality in part because it’s a production the municipality could mount.

Very interesting.

As for Wolf River Theatrical Troupe, this from its site: “We are diligently working on the 2021 schedule and are hoping to bring you as much live entertainment as possible this year. Tribute Artists, Special Guests and Full Play Productions are on the horizon!”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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