Category: Audio Drama Review

Audio Drama Review: The Third Man

LA Threatre Works adapted Graham Greene’s The Third Man in 2009.

The story follows novelist Holly Martins (Kelsey Grammer) as he arrives in post-War Vienna hoping to get a job from his old friend Harry Lime, only to find Lime has died of an apparent car accident. However, he stumbles on evidence that there may be more to Lime’s death than meets the eye, and his friend may not be the man Holly thought he was.

This audio drama is a well-done retelling of the classic film with few deviations along the way. Kelsey Grammer is superb as Martins bringing just a right mix of toughness, romance, and innocence to the role. The rest of the cast is generally good, though John Mahoney used an American accent when playing the British Major Calloway which took me out of the story a few times.

The production quality was pretty good, with only a few scenes having minor issues. The entire production feels authentic to the original movie, helped by a good rendition of the classic theme. Overall, LA Theatre Works provides a worthy adaptation of a great story.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: Jimmy and the Star Angel

In Colonial Radio Theatre’s musical Jimmy and the Star Angel, Jimmy and Samantha, a young brother and sister, are dealing with their first Christmas without their dad. On Christmas Eve, Jimmy destroys one of his father’s Christmas tree ornaments which leads to them being shrunk to the size of ornaments. All the ornaments on the tree come alive. Jimmy and Samantha need their help to reach the top of the tree by dawn to ask the Star Angel for help or risk being turned into Christmas ornaments forever.

If you like Babes in Toyland or the Wizard of Oz, Jimmy and the Star Angel is that type of journey, so you’re sure to enjoy it. This magical quest up a Christmas tree is full of imaginative and fun characters. It’s also an emotional journey for Samantha and especially Jimmy.

The music in this is great. The songs alone are worth the price of the purchase. They vary in tone, mood, and purpose, but they’re all fun. I loved the swinging “Snowman Spectacular” and the penultimate song “Star Angel” is still bouncing around in my head more than a week and a half after I listened to it.

While the plot is a fantasy, there’s an emotional through line for  Jimmy and Samantha that’s moving. I also found the use of the Christmas trees to be interesting. Jimmy’s family has passed down ornaments for years and the idea these ornaments serve as a family connection through the generations is well-presented, and it helps to serve as a solution to the problem.

The plot has minor issues that adult listeners will pick up on. The villain, the pirate Scrimshaw (Jerry Robbins) feels like he’s  been written because these stories need a villain which leads to the less than satisfactory way in which he’s dispatched as well as the strained way he’s brought in. That said, though Scrimshaw’s not necessary to the plot, Robbins (who wrote the play) is a lot of fun in the role. I like the idea of a Christmas Tree ornament seeking revenge against the boy who broke him.

Overall, this is a great production for the whole family. I recommend you try it out and see if it becomes a tradition like your favorite Christmas tree ornaments.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Disclosure: I received a free digital copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Audio Drama Review: Lord Peter Wimsey: BBC Radio Drama Collection Volume 1

The BBC has begun release its adaptations of Dorothy Sayers novels featuring Lord Peter Wimsey. The series originally aired between 1973-1983 with one story being recorded in 1993. All feature Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter.  The first collection features radio adaptations of Wimsey’s first three novels.

The collection begins with the first novel Whose Body. It opens with his mother calling him when a dead man is found in an architect’s bathtub and the dead man is wearing nothing but a pair of pince-nez glasses.

The story does a good job of establishing Wimsey as a detective as well as much of the supporting cast. The story has a light tone. One big exception is when Lord Peter has an episode of what we would now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder related to his service in World War I. His servant Bunter (Peter Jones) served with him in the war and has to bring him out of it.

Overall, Whose Body is delightful and at five parts, it moves at a quicker pace than the other stories in the set. It’s a well-done and pleasant puzzle mystery.

Next up is Cloud of Witnesses in which Lord Peter returns from abroad to find his sister’s fiancé has been murdered and his brother is suspected of the crime.

This is an eight-part adaptation, and the mystery is much more involved and complicated. It works and it gives some insights into Lord Peter’s family and their relationships to one another.

The final story in this collection is the seven-part adaptation of Unnatural Death which has Lord Peter investigating the death of an elderly woman three years previously that was apparently from cancer. Her heir was her great niece who had served as her nurse. A doctor became suspicious of the true cause of the death and was pushed out of the town because of it.

The question of motive is at the heart of the mystery. Lord Peter recruits a marvelous spinster to help with the investigation.

The mystery is complicated and several elements are a bit iffy. The story also suffers from a lack of Bunter, who is absent from most of the tale. By no means is it a bad mystery, it is just not as good as the other two.

Beyond the mysteries themselves, the acting is good throughout. I also love the theme music. It fits the detective like a glove.

I have to say I was impressed by the quality of the sound and the sound effects. It was better than it was on the Poirot’s Finest Cases set that the BBC released a while back, which is odd. The Poirot adaptations came later. Whether this is due to advances in audio restoration technology or due to the Whimsey production team creating a better sound, the sound design is very impressive.

Whether you’re a long-time fan of Peter Whimsey or you like old-fashioned British detectives in general, these radio plays are a delight and I highly recommend them.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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A Look at Our Miss Brooks

Our Miss Brooks is the most popular and beloved of the post-War sitcoms, airing from 1948-57. It was on television from 1952-56 and came to theaters. The television version lacks an official DVD release, so only a few public domain episodes are easily available. We’ll be focusing on the radio version.

The series began in 1948, focusing on Connie Brooks, an underpaid English teacher at Madison High School who was a boarder in the House of Miss Davis. The series covers Brooks’  troubles with an authoritarian principal and trying to win the man she’s in love with, bashful biologist Philip Boynton.

Originally, Shirley Booth was chosen to star and a pilot was recorded featuring her, but she wasn’t a good fit. Eve Arden won the starring role and it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the part. She had a great sense of comedic timing and near perfect delivery, always generating a laugh at the right time. In addition to her relationship frustrations, Miss Brooks was beset by financial problems. And, again, Principal Osgood Conklin’s  constant demands went above and beyond any reasonable interpretation of her job description.

Conklin was played by Gale Gordon and his character makes the series what it is. Conklin is an authoritarian and a bit of an egotist. He strictly enforces all rules, including ones he himself ignores. A character like this could become obnoxious, yet Gordon makes him fun. He has signature lines, such as the most incredulous of, “Oh you do…” to someone whose opinion he thinks is preposterous. He also has a classic delayed reaction where he goes on calmly for several seconds before realizing what someone said and responding.

Conklin was humanized a bit. He often suffered from Miss Brooks’ accident-prone nature. By the end of most episodes, Conklin has got his comeuppance, which makes for good catharsis.

Mr. Boynton was played from 1948-53 by Jeff Chandler and thereafter by the Robert Rockwell, who played the role on television. Boynton is a biology teacher and tone-deaf to romance. He likes Miss Brooks but doesn’t express it even though they date quite a bit. He’s cheap and rarely pays for anything with Miss Brooks. His idea of a hot date is a trip to the zoo. He’s obsessed with his biology animals and will often demur on more exciting opportunities.

Miss Brook’s landlady Mrs. Davis (Jane Morgan) serves as a warm, supportive figure who is hilariously absentminded. Walter Denton (Richard Crenna) is a squeaky-voiced teenager who lavishes Miss Brooks with praise and frequently drives her to school. He’s also a representative of the students and often locks horns with Mr. Conklin.

Harriet Conklin (Gloria McMillan) rounds out the regulars as Conklin’s daughter and Walter’s girlfriend. She was level-headed, intelligent, and kind. Major recurring characters included Miss Enright (Mary Jane Croft), a fellow English teacher who was a rival for Mr, Boynton’s affections. Most of her episodes featured an entertaining verbal catfight between her and Miss Brooks. Stretch Snodgrass (Leonard Smith) was a stereotypical “dumb jock” but a well-realized one, always managing to create laughs through his malapropisms and his inability to keep anything straight. Gerald Mohr played at least two different French Teachers in order to be stereotypically French and romantic.

The stories are standard sitcom fare that relies on the characters and the cast’s chemistry in order to make the plots work. The stories reflect the culture of the times and the expectation of teachers to maintain a high moral standard. Mr. Conklin would sometimes take this to excess and raise concerns about Miss Brooks and Mr. Boynton’s “fraternization.” However, they’d been dating for at least five years and still addressed each other as Miss Brooks and Mr. Boynton even away from work. They were far above most people’s standards. The series reflects a more innocent time in entertainment.

The show does have its weaknesses. Many episodes require Miss Brooks and company to convince people of an outrageous whopper of a lie. The problem is the lies are so outlandish and the deception has such low consequence for the truth coming out, the show comes off as dumb rather than funny.

In addition, the series doesn’t have the heart of many other productions from the same era. Unlike The Life of Riley or The Great Gildersleeve, characters in Our Miss Brooks, never have any regrets about their actions, nor do they have heartwarming moments. The story remains a comedy all the way through each episode. While comedies should focus mostly on the funny, the lack of any emotional moments or regrets makes the characters more shallow and harder to relate to.

Still, despite its issues, the series works due to its funny situations and Arden and Gordon’s unerring timing and delivery. It is one of radio’s true classic sitcoms.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

180 Episodes of Our Miss Brooks are available here.

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Audio Drama Review: Black Jack Justice Season 1

Black Jack Justice was produced by Decoder Ring Theatre in Canada. Like the Red Panda, it’s a period series. Black Jack Justice is set after World War II and is a detective series in the style of hard-boiled detective shows like Philip Marlowe and That Hammer Guy.

Unlike most narrated private eye series, Black Jack Justice features two detectives and each takes turns narrating the story. The series stars Christopher Mott as Jack Justice and Andrea Lyons as Trixie Dixon: Girl Detective, his partner. Writer Gregg Taylor plays their recurring police foil Lieutenant Sabien.

The format of the series works well. Both characters are hard boiled, but their styles vary. Justice’s narration tends to be a bit more world-weary and sarcastic, while Dixon is lighter and more smart alecky in her approach. It makes for interesting narration and also good banter between the characters.

There’s definition friction between them, and lots of sniping back and forth. Still, there’s a great amount of professional respect as well as a shared sense of right and wrong.

The first season features twelve episodes, unlike future seasons which would included only six. The episode titles in this first season employed many puns on Justice’s name, such as, “Justice Served Cold,” “Justice Delayed,” “Justice be Done,” and “Hammer of Justice.”

Almost every episode has a good mystery plot. The stories are intellectually engaging and often offer surprising solutions. Most have a tone and style that would fit into the golden age of radio. On some issues, particularly the role of women and domestic violence, it feels a bit more modern, but it doesn’t go overboard.

The music is great, particularly what’s used during the narration. It establishes the mood well.

The only episode that left me a bit cold was the series finale, “Justice and the Happy Ending.” The mystery was not challenging and the plot ultimately came down to how Justice would handle a temptation. However, it was somewhat predictable the way it played out.

Still, the season is overall quite strong. If you love golden age detective shows, it’s definitely worth a listen.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Season 1 of Black Jack Justice is available on the Decoder Ring Theatre website.