It’s a classic tale of the Old West, about a group of travelers making a perilous trip and discovering their better selves along the way.
But to reach the stage of the Jeanne Rimsky Theater, Stagecoach had to complete a journey of its own.
“Stagecoach” is best known as a movie — a classic, in fact, released in 1939 at the pinnacle of Hollywood’s Golden Age. It’s the film that made John Wayne a big star. But that wasn’t where the journey began.
It started with a short story in Collier’s magazine called “Stage to Lordsburg,” by Ernest Haycox. The director John Ford quickly bought the rights and hired a top Hollywood screenwriter, Dudley Nichols, to expand it into a movie script.
In those days, when radio was king, any hit movie would soon be adapted as a radio play. So between 1946 and 1949, three different programs on rival networks did versions of Stagecoach on the air, each featuring someone from the original movie cast.
Now fast-forward (past two forgettable remakes of the movie) to 2015, when radio drama was enjoying a bit of a comeback. Theatrical groups on Long Island and across the country were delighting audiences with recreations of classic films.
Local writer Pat Lyons, who took part in several of those radio plays, wanted to mount one with an ensemble of interesting characters and plenty of sound effects, which are a big part of the fun for the audience. Stagecoach seemed like just the thing, and he found a transcript of the January 1949 radio version posted online.
“There was just one problem,” Lyons said. “The radio writers back then had cut the story so drastically to fit in a half-hour network time slot that the plot no longer made sense.”
So he took that script and beefed it up again, repairing the plot holes, restoring key scenes and dialogue from the movie, stripping out some dated stereotypes and even adding authentic 1949 commercials.
The result is what you’ll see this weekend: An entertaining and exciting hour-long trip back to radio’s heyday that everyone in the audience can enjoy.
“Stagecoach” will be performed Sunday, Sept. 24, at 3 p.m. in the Jeanne Rimsky Theater at the Landmark on Main Street in Port Washington. Tickets are just $10, and are on sale at the theater box office, 516.767.6444 or online at www.landmarkonmainstreet.org. The show is a production of Landmark on Main Street and Expressive Elocution.
This event is sponsored by Joe & Maureen Wekselblatt.