Wednesday, May 6, 2009

No need to 'Panic'

SIOUX CITY-It was near the end of October.

Business was better. The war scare was over. More men were back at work. Sales were picking up.

On this particular evening, Oct. 30, the Crosley service estimated that 32 million people were listening in on radios.

It aired over the CBS radio network as a "Mercury Theatre on the Air" Halloween episode on Oct. 30, 1938.

Directed and narrated by Orson Welles, many Americans became instilled with a fear of panic,a s they thought the 60-minute adaptation of H.G. Wells' novel "The War of the Worlds" was actually happening, and Martians were invading the planet.

Over 70 years later, Steven Dolginoff hopes to instill that panic once again,by way of his musical "Panic: The Story Behind the War of the Worlds Broadcast," now making its world premiere at LAMB Productions Theatre in Sioux City.

But, the way the big city production made it's way to a stage in the Midwest is a story in and of itself.

"I produced Steven's show 'Thrill Me,'" said Russ Wooley, "Panic" director and LAMB co-founder. "When we did the show, we chatted many times on the phone. At one point, I said, 'Hey Steven, if you'd ever like to workshop your show, I know a great theatre in Sioux City that could do that.' By the end of 'Thrill Me,' he had sent a script for 'Panic,' and said, 'Let's do this.'"

And doing it, they are.

But, don't let the term "musical" fool you.

"It's not the type where there is a lot of dancing and so forth," Wooley said. "The songs are very much character driven."

One such song, set at 11 minutes, is a distilled version of the original 60-minute Orson Welles broadcast, which will undoubtedly make sure viewers will feel like they're experiencing the influential segment for the first time.

If that's not original enough, the stage will also feature a vintage looking 1930s set, complete with a radio broadcast booth and era relevant costumes.

"It will put you right there in that world," Wooley said.

So goodbye everybody, and remember, please, for the next day or so the terrible lesson you learned tonight: that grinning, glowing globular invader of your living room is an inhabitant of the pumpkin patch, and if your doorbell rings and nobody's there, that was no Martian - it's Halloween.

70 Years Later:
Emerging technology is a common message director Russ Wooley sites in "Panic."

"Radio was a new thing in the 1930s," Wooley said. "It was the place to be - where you reached the most immediately."

Sound familiar?

"It parallels exactly what's going on now with the Internet," Wooley said.

Take Susan Boyle, who became an overnight YouTube sensation after her audition on "Britain's Got Talent," was made public. Now, over 40 million people have heard her sing.

"It's absolutely amazing," Wooley said. "When they heard that on Halloween night, several hundreds of thousands of people heard it, and because of the way it was approached, some actually believed it really was happening."

This article appeared in the May 2, 2009 edition of DISCOVER! Magazine.

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