‘On the Home Front, Nov. ’44’ performance Nov. 11 to honor veterans

Cast members of “On The Home Front, Nov. ‘44” practice lines and music cues with Bruce H. Frazier (seated) the conductor of and arranger for the Home Front Radio Orchestra. Standing, from left, is Don Connelly, the show's producer; Steve Carlisle, the show’s director; Melody Huddleston, who is playing the role of G.I. Jill; and Terry Nienhuis, who is playing the role of Private Jimmy “Sad-Sack” Walters, the show’s comic relief character.

Cast members of “On The Home Front, Nov. ‘44” practice lines and music cues with Bruce H. Frazier (seated) the conductor of and arranger for the Home Front Radio Orchestra. Standing, from left, is Don Connelly, the show’s producer; Steve Carlisle, the show’s director; Melody Huddleston, who is playing the role of G.I. Jill; and Terry Nienhuis, who is playing the role of Private Jimmy “Sad-Sack” Walters, the show’s comic relief character.

Western Carolina University will honor veterans with a live, historically accurate re-creation of the popular World War II radio show “Command Performance, USA!” at 7:30 p.m. on Veterans Day – Wednesday, Nov. 11.

For the stage presentation of “On the Home Front, Nov. ’44,” WCU’s Fine and Performing Arts Center will be transformed into one of the CBS radio studios in Hollywood where the show was recorded and broadcast 65 years ago for GIs overseas. Professional stage and screen actors, broadcast faculty members, and current broadcasters and professional voice talents will re-create the broadcast. Stars of the show also include faculty musicians performing as the 14-piece Home Front Radio Orchestra.

“During World War II, Armed Forces Radio Service programs provided a vital link to back home and were a tremendous morale booster for the GIs,” said Don Connelly, head of the communication department and producer of the show. “‘Command Performance’ was the GIs’ radio show, and they submitted requests for the music and stars they wanted to be on the show. People are going to get to see and hear all of their favorite hits come to life. Some of the most requested music on ‘Command Performance’ was from Spike Jones and the City Slickers, and there will be a very lively Spike Jones number.”

Tickets to attend the one-time-only live stage production are $5, with proceeds benefitting scholarship funds at WCU. The production will begin at 7:30 p.m. with live music from “The Hit Parade” of 1944, said Connelly, who spent more than 25 years in managerial and on-air roles before coming to WCU from Clear Channel of Orlando. No one will be admitted after 7:30 p.m. because the production is being broadcast live over radio station WWNC-AM of Asheville.

“It is exciting for us and the community to honor our veterans in such a unique way, especially since our station was on the air at the time,” said Brian Hall, WWNC program director.

The show is a joint production of Western’s department of communication, department of stage and screen, history department, Honors College and School of Music, and area broadcast professionals. Directing the show is Steve Carlisle, associate dean of the Honors College and a professional actor for more than 35 years, including 25-plus seasons at the Flat Rock Playhouse.

“This has been honor working on such a unique project for our veterans,” said Carlisle. “In some ways it feels like the Little Rascals getting together to put a play on in the barn.”

Bruce Frazier, WCU’s Belk Distinguished Professor of Commercial and Electronic Music, will direct the musicians performing as the Home Front Radio Orchestra.

“Music has always been a main part of entertaining the troops and this show is full of 1940s favorites,” said Frazier. “The music is a jolt of nostalgia with some famous dance music, swing in particular. It is great to see the spirit and enthusiasm of our music faculty as they lend their talents to the project to honor veterans.”

Susan Brown-Strauss, professor of stage and screen who has designed costumes for theaters in the South and Midwest, will coordinate the period costumes. Luther Jones, assistant professor of theater, and stage designer and technical director for the stage and screen department, will assist with the stage setting for the show.

The cast includes Aaron D’Innocenzi from Clear Channel in Asheville; Melody Huddleston, administrative assistant from the stage and screen department; Terry Nienhuis, retired professor of English with a number of years of acting for stage, television and film; and Carlisle and Connelly.

Purchasing tickets in advance is recommended, as last year’s presentation of “The War of the Worlds” was sold out. For ticket information, contact the Fine and Performing Arts Center box office at (828) 227-2479.