WILLMAR – From the moment the eerie organ music begins to play and the man slides his words through a sinister sneer, the listener knows they are about to experience suspense and mystery and – perhaps – a dark look into their own souls.
“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The shadow knows!” warns the faceless man, adding a heinous cackle disguised as a laugh.
The popular old-time radio series “The Shadow,” which was broadcast on American radios from 1937 through 1954, is being produced by community actors with an audio performance available on Halloween on The Barn Theatre’s website, www.thebarntheatre.com.
Three episodes in the long-running radio series were recorded at The Barn and will be available by midnight Friday – just in time for a family-friendly Halloween scare.
Each episode lasts about 20 minutes, said Cheri Buzzeo, production coordinator at The Barn.
“The Shadow: The Isle of Fear” was originally broadcast Oct. 30, 1938.
A synopsis of the drama included in The Barn’s playbill says the story involves the character of Margot and Lamont, who are visiting a friend in Haiti when a voodoo cult kidnaps their friend’s child. The boy is rescued when Margot convinces the natives that she is a “powerful priestess” who is stronger than their leader.
“The Shadow: The Blind Beggar Dies” was originally broadcast on April 17, 1938, and tells the story of “Singing Jim,” a blind street performer who is killed by a band of extortionists who prey on the city’s street beggars.
The final Barn episode, “The Shadow: The Ghost Walks Again,” was broadcast March 16, 1941, and features an ancient ghost who rises from the dead to stop plans by townspeople to turn the local town hall into a museum to make money from tourists.
The Halloween audio show is the second radio-style performance The Barn has undertaken this fall. COVID has made it difficult to perform theatrical performances in front of an audience. By following social-distancing and mask guidelines, recording an audio drama can bring an old-fashioned type of drama to a wide audience while satisfying the acting itch for the cast of local volunteer actors.
The Barn did a series of “Fibber McGee and Molly" shows, with audio and video on the website, and decided to pull together a quick show for Halloween, said Buzzeo. “The Shadow” shows will only be audio, however.
They came up with the idea last Monday, Oct. 19, had a couple rehearsals and were set to record it eight days later.
Because the cast reads the script while standing at a microphone, they don’t need time to memorize lines, choreograph the staging or create backdrops and props. A sound effects crew, however, is used to make the audio scenes come to life.
Buzzeo said the writing style of the old mystery theater may be considered a little “lame” by today’s standards, but the music, sound effects and voices of the cast blend together for a fun and "not an overly scary" experience for the Halloween show.
Back in the 1930s the “content wasn’t necessarily what was selling” the show, said Buzzeo. It was the suspense.
While much of the cast for this radio theater is similar to the Fibber McGee and Molly show, this is the first time that long-time Barn actor and local musician, Jay Ellingson, has directed a performance. “He can put his original spin on things,” said Buzzeo.
Depending on what happens with the COVID pandemic, Buzzeo said radio performances “might be our business for a while.”
She said additional shows are tentatively scheduled for November and December.
Buzzeo said The Barn wants to hear other ideas from people about options for performances, classes and other ways for the theater to connect with the community. “We want to invite people to get involved,” she said.
While the radio theater performances are free, donations are encouraged. A “donate” button is on The Barn’s website, which can be easily accessed while listening to the shows.
Cast and crew list
John Cola plays Lamont Cranston/The Shadow, Stephanie Felt plays Margot Lane, the intimate friend and assistant to The Shadow and Eric Kalkbrenner is the announcer for all three shows.
Playing different parts in all three shows are Ace Bonnema, Jason Collins, Denise Deaner, David Hoeschen, Jason Jensen and Dean Madsen.
Playing different parts in one or two shows are Ashleigh Cola, John Dean, Jon Marchand and Brenda Santamont.
Jay Ellingson is the director, with Bob Thompson in charge of tech/sound effects and audio recording. Running the sound effects/Foley table are Michael Cola and Ashleigh Cola.
Operations manager is Naomi Lindquist and production coordinator is Cheri Buzzeo.