Curtain Call: Torrington’s ‘Nutmeg Junction’ pays homage to golden age radio
The “Nutmeg Junction” radio show featuring the vocals of many local actors has moved along from its first episode in Torrington, into the heartland, and is now heard on 16 stations in many states including California. Amazingly, it has all happened in four short years. Known as an audio theater program, it does pay homage to the golden age of scripted radio programs.
J. Timothy Quirk, who writes all the scripts for the program, credits its rising popularity to the “old time” storytelling quality made new and its exceptional vocal actors. He also considers a quote from Steve Martin to be a driving force: “Be so good, they can’t ignore you.”
It all started in Torrington at WAPJ studio, where Quirk first announced that the show would go national. Now, because of COVID-19 everything is being done remotely and not at the studio.
“So many actors miss performing live, so they record an audio adventure,” said Quirk. That includes everything from light comedies to family-friendly mysteries. Many of the stations picking up the program are community radio stations. Everything from the writing of the weekly episodes to the vocal performances are volunteered. “I created it for community stations and I do it for the love of it,” said Quirk, who describes his radio shows as theater of the mind.
Referring to the olden days when families would gather around their radios and tune into programs like “The Jack Benny Show,” Quirk offers the noncommercial modern technology to an old concept. “These are not variety shows like Benny’s, these are shows with stories, actors, and digital sound effects, but they rely on the imagination of the listeners to step into another world and step out of this one for a while.”
From science fiction episodes to the most popular “Barnaby Druthers” private detective, the episodes are not only presented vocally with clarity and expression but written with sharp wit and originality.
“Barnaby Druthers” seems to pick up where Sherlock Holmes left off. However, instead of Watson, the very English Barnaby has a female American crime-solving partner, Irene Adler. Barnaby, a “loveable but clueless amateur private detective, lacks self-awareness and is under the thumb of his formidable mother,” described Humphry Rolleston, who portrays the title character. He added that Barnaby is just smart enough to get help and support from Miss Adler.
Quirk, who has acted at local theaters including the Warner as well as the Desultory Theatre, said that he would be proud to play any of his characters. “I enjoy giving actors these roles and I like being behind the scenes now.” Considering that the work is now done remotely, he not only writes each script, but pieces all the actors’ individual performances together, then adds the sound effects and the music.
Speaking of the music, Quirk pointed out several times to mention that Robert C. Fullerton of Torrington created the theme for the show as well for the episodes. Having listened to some of the episodes, I see why this was important. The music is really good, adds atmosphere and a whole additional dimension to the work.
There are about 30 local actors who perform vocally in this audio theater experience. Most theatergoers are familiar with many of them like Jeff Savage, John Fabiani and Dan Willey.
Although Quirk claims that he should have done this in his “20s,” it seems like this is the perfect time to step out of our often-chaotic world and into a new place.
Joanne Greco Rochman was a founding member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and is a current member in the American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: email@example.com.