Clang, Clang, Clang Went the Southampton Radio Play

"Meet me in St. Louis" at Cultural Center
The Southampton Cultural Center’s theater will be transformed into a 1940s radio studio, complete with period costumes and sound effects, for “Meet Me in St. Louis: A Live Radio Play.” Dane DuPuis

Radio plays became popular in the 1920s, created entire worlds in listeners’  imaginations using only dialogue, music, and sound effects. They were a leading international form of popular entertainment by the 1940s —  before television killed the radio star. (What child wanted to listen to  “Bobby Benson and the B-Bar-B Riders” when they could watch the smoke fly on “The Cisco Kid”?) Most readers have probably heard of Orson Welles’s legendary 1938 radio drama,  “The War of the Worlds,” which convinced many panicked listeners that the United States was under attack from Mars, but fewer people today realize that radio was such big business that the stars of hit motion pictures often reprised their roles in radio-wave retellings.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 1944 musical “Meet Me in St. Louis” was a critical and commercial success that starred Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien, Mary Astor, Leon Ames, and Lucille Bremer as members of an upper-middle-class St. Louis family whose lives and loves are chronicled during 1903, the year before the World’s Fair came to that city. Two years later, Lux Radio Theater presented a one-hour radio version that starred Ms. Garland and little Miss O’Brien.

Cut to the Southampton Cultural Center, where, since 2014, Michael Disher, the creative director of Center Stage, has directed live radio plays during the winter holidays. This year’s production, “Meet Me in St. Louis: A Live Radio Play,” was adapted by Joe Landry from the book by Hugh Wheeler and songs by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane. It will open with a performance Friday evening at 7 and continue on weekends through Dec. 9.

Mr. Disher noted that this is the first musical radio play undertaken by Center Stage: “It is sung, it is danced, it is spoken, it is quite the hybrid for a radio play.” While he has directed many musicals at the cultural center, this production presented particular challenges.  “It’s so limited in its framework,” he said. “You’re working with microphones the actors have to be close to, you’re working with a very small studio stage, and with those confines and restrictions intact you have to be very, very clever in your staging.” 

The score is classic, including several songs that have become part of 

the American cannon, including  “The Boy Next Door,” “The Trolley Song,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and “Meet Me in St. Louis.”  Amanda Jones, the musical director, will provide accompaniment on the piano, and Alyssa Kelly will choreograph the dance numbers.

Mr. Disher and Mr. Landry will meet for the first time at the opening night performance.  “We will do a talkback and find out why this man is drawn to the wonderful world of radio,” Mr. Disher said. 

The cast features Michael Casper, Gabriel DiFrancesco, Joey Giovingo, Amanda Jones, Alyssa Kelly, John Lovett, Katrina Lovett, Catherine Maloney, Pamela Morris, Michaal Lyn Schepps, Anna Schiavoni, Lon Shomer, and Edna Winston. 

Performance times are Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m., but there will be no performance on Saturday because of the village's annual tree-lighting ceremony. Tickets are $25, $12 for students.