history walk

Philip Jaeger

By performing “The Magnificent Ambersons” as a radio drama, RG Productions is bringing the story back to its roots.

Kenosha native Orson Welles, who the local radio drama troupe is honoring with this show near his May 6 birthday, first adapted the “Ambersons” novel for a one-hour radio drama, performed Oct. 29, 1939, by his Mercury Players. Welles portrayed young George in the story and was also the narrator.

More famously, Welles produced and directed a 1942 film adaptation of the story, also with his narration.

Though the film was troubled — Welles and RKO Studio battled over the project — it has since become regarded as an American classic.

Philip Jaeger is directing the local production, which was adapted by Amy Louise Seyller, who also plays a role.

(Like Welles, director Jaeger is also playing a role in the drama, playing Eugene, the Joseph Cotton role.)

The story, Jaeger said, “is well suited as a radio presentation because it is a character-driven story with well-defined roles.”

The novel traces the decline of the wealthy Amberson family in the decades after the Civil War, as industry rises. Jaeger said Booth Tarkington’s 1918 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is still relevant today, reflecting “inevitable ups and downs in society and industry.”

Welles was drawn to this story, Jaeger said, “because it reflects his early childhood in Kenosha. This is the most personal film he did, with a strong-willed young man.”

The local performance, he said, is “a re-creation of a 1940s radio production as it might have been done after the film’s release, with live music and sound effects and also a brief intermission.”

Despite the studio’s butchering of the film, including cutting footage and changing the ending, Jaeger said “it’s still a wonderful movie.”

While this show is a tribute to Welles, it also has a more personal meaning for Jaeger and other RG Productions members.

“It will be dedicated to the memory of two of our founding members who died last summer — Jeff Hunter, a sound specialist, and George Wertke, a keyboard musician.”