CASABLANCA – Live Radio Play

Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.” – Rick Blaine – Casablanca

NEAT is proud to present another Live Radio Play in our ongoing series honouring the Golden Era of Radio. Director David Burmedi writes the following about his latest theatre project:

Casablanca.  My love affair with Hollywood movies goes way back, and if I were ever going to stage one, Casablanca was always near the top of the list.  There are really so many Hollywood movies to choose from.  And they all have universal appeal.  But in terms of script-genius, it is hard to top Casablanca.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  I was determined to retain the radio show format that worked so successfully for our production of It’s A Wonderful Life.  Live sound effects, a must.  Throw in a couple of humorous radio advertisements to carry us back in time.  And of course, plug in the electronic Applause sign.

We were all systems go until COVID-19.

But pandemics have a way of sparking creativity.  I can’t remember the exact moment the idea hit me.  But at some point, I found myself telling anyone who would listen that we’ll put the audience at their own table to ensure social distancing.  In fact, we’ll actually bring them onto the set – we’ll reserve them a seat at Rick’s American Café!  This will be something!  We seriously toyed with the idea of Theater in the Round but health regulations would never have allowed it.  So, we rolled with that punch, created distance between actors and audience, and even spaced our microphones onstage accordingly.

A good idea has ripple effects.  And I could tell we had a very good idea by the way things began to fall into place.  We needed the piano at the very center of it all, of course.  And a table beside the piano, to bring the sound effects to the fore.  A musical number?  Well, there’s Knock On Wood – hey, doesn’t the audience actually sing along to that one? 

But bringing a film to the stage has its own particular challenges.  You can’t have everything.  The elements that make Casablanca one of the greatest films of all time – in particular, the cinematography and the music – cannot be reproduced and are better left to the celluloid medium.  We can’t film through gauze to make Ilsa’s complexion flawless, or have an orchestra play the Marseilles and triumph over the Watch on the Rhein.  Creating artillery fire on stage would really piss off the Gesundheitsamt, wouldn’t it?  So what can we do? 

In the end, it’s all about the writing.  A big story, about taking sides, and doing the right thing.  About being torn between love and duty.  About casting aside cynicism in a world that is falling apart and returning to the ideals you once held.  That’s Rick’s story, but there are no small roles in Casablanca.  Every character embarks on their own journey and some end up very far from where they began.  Which is why we gave the actors in our “radio studio” the right look – Rick in his white dinner jacket and bow tie, a fez for Ferrari, a French policeman’s uniform très chic for Renault.  Because we know these characters – they are the stuff of Hollywood legend – and rightly so.

Welcome to a different kind of radio play.

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