by NATHANIEL NELSON
In two weeks, Theatre du Mississippi (TdM) will present its 7th annual Christmas Radio Show, but this time, audiences will be in for a very different experience. Instead of a recreation of an old-time radio show as in years past, the show will be skewing a bit more modern — NPR style.
“This year, we’re going a 1930s-noir kind of show. But this year, I’m treating it more like its an NPR show and it’s very clear that it is a show we are putting it on,” explained director Tony Opelt.
The show will be performed on December 7 and 8 at 7:30 p.m. and on December 9 at 2 p.m. at Burke Music House. TdM has been producing the annual radio show for the past seven years, and it has recently become the organization’s largest and most attended performance. Actors stage a classic radio show set in the early 1900s, complete with held scripts, interviews, stories from the period, advertisements, and commentary. Everything is acted out on stage, along with live sound effects.
“The idea behind it was to stage an old-time radio show. The audience is watching an old-time radio show being broadcast on stage,” explained Kathy Florin, administrative assistant at TdM.
This year, Opelt is taking a different approach to the process. Opelt said that he wants the show this year to be different than previous years, so instead of actors being dressed in era-appropriate clothing, they’ll be wearing jeans and T-shirts like a modern radio station. “In the spirit of it being an NPR show, we’re also going to have live music as a part of the show,” Opelt added, explaining that a band will be playing jazzy Christmas tunes to add to the atmosphere.
Opelt has been involved with TdM for the past four years, as both a board member and an actor, but this performance will be his first in the director’s chair — and he’s glad that it is for the radio show.
“It’s my favorite thing that Theater du Mississippi does. It’s my favorite tradition. I have loved it every year that they have done it, and I’m excited to be a bigger part of that tradition this year by getting to direct the show,” Opelt explained.
The script for this year’s play was written by Alex Green, and weaves a noir-tinged yarn through 1930s Winona. The play, which takes place around Christmas time, tells the story of a college girl named Wendy who is visiting home for the holidays. She stumbles upon her father meeting someone from Chicago for “business” and realizes that the two are up to something shady. Eventually, someone is killed, a detective is brought in, and the story blasts forward from there.
“Usually, when people hear a noir-style setting they connect with it being a murder mystery, but I would say it is more of a thriller than anything else,” Opelt said.
Opelt added that he received the script about a month ago, and quickly found that it was one of the strongest scripts TdM has used for the Christmas classic. Last weekend, auditions were held and starting on November 26, the cast and crew have two weeks to prepare for the December performances.
The performances are one-of-a-kind, Opelt said, even compared to the other shows produced by TdM. While live theater is relatively common across the state, live radio shows are another matter entirely.
“It gives you an experience in Winona that you can’t get anywhere else at any time of year,” Opelt stated. “We also have an exceptionally strong script this year compared to previous years, and it’s a very good story and I think people are going to enjoy it.”
TdM will present its seventh annual Christmas Radio Show, written by Alex Green and directed by Tony Opelt, on December 7 and 8 at 7:30 p.m. and on December 9 at 2 p.m. at Burke Music House, 226 East Third Street, Winona. Tickets are on sale online at theatredumiss.org or at Chapter 2 Books. Presale tickets are $15 for general admission and $7 for students, and tickets at the door will be $18 for general admission and $7 for students. For more information, visit theatredumiss.org.