January 31, 2018

Contributed
The Key Players actors rehearse at a breakneck pace in order to recreate the atmosphere of 'War of the Worlds,' based on the infamous 1938 broadcast by Orson Welles. Originally slated to open in April, Hurricane Irma shuffled the troupe's schedule, forcing them to put their first show of 2018 on two months early.

Contributed The Key Players actors rehearse at a breakneck pace in order to recreate the atmosphere of 'War of the Worlds,' based on the infamous 1938 broadcast by Orson Welles. Originally slated to open in April, Hurricane Irma shuffled the troupe's schedule, forcing them to put their first show of 2018 on two months early.

KEY LARGO — The Key Players, a Key Largo-based community theater troupe that has entertained audiences for 40 years, is putting on a show based on the infamous “War of the Worlds” radio performance by Hollywood legend Orson Welles 80 years ago.

The broadcast lives in the cultural memory due to newspaper reports of widespread chaos sparked by the performance, which some believed was an actual news report of an alien attack. Welles broke into regular programming without tipping the audience off that the story was fiction, and newspapers of the day pounced on the opportunity to besmirch radio as an illegitimate news outlet.

Tales of hordes running through the streets, some committing suicide in reaction to the sudden extraterrestrial invasion have largely been debunked, as later research has shown that the “panic” was overblown and that the vast majority of those who were tuned into the radio at the time weren’t listening to the program. Still, the broadcast and the supposed bedlam that followed has become legend.

Jonelle Kop, vice president of The Key Players, says that the first show of the theater’s 40th anniversary year will play up the chaos angle of the broadcast’s aftermath, depicting dramatized reactions from those who lived in the Keys way back in 1938. She relates the trumped-up panic then to a recent incident in Hawaii which resulted from a mistaken ballistic missile alert that wasn’t corrected for nearly 40 minutes.

“The scare over Hawaii was significantly different, but it is actually quite parallel,” Kop said. “It came over the emergency system.”

That system incorporates radio, television, the internet, smartphones; Hawaiians were bombarded from all sides by alerts. Kop says that the “War of the Worlds” legend can be informative in this era of alleged fake news in which many don’t know what to believe.

“Just because it’s on the TV and the radio doesn’t mean it’s true,” she said. “You have to do your homework.”

Hurricane Irma brought real chaos with it, shuffling the theater’s schedule and forcing Kop and the theater group to work fast.

Kop also decided to add original writing and recreate sound effects that echo those used during the original broadcast. She says that incorporating all of those elements into a show that was originally scheduled for April has been taxing.

“It’s a challenge,” she said. “It’s an extremely tight timeline, (but) we will definitely be ready by the time we get there.”

As The Key Players enters its fourth decade of entertaining Keys crowds, Kop says that the season will be dedicated to the memory of Tom Butler, a sailor and a cornerstone of both the community and the history of the troupe. He passed away last year.

“This season in its entirely is dedicated to Tom Butler,” Kop said. “We wouldn’t be in existence were it not for him.”

“War of the Worlds” premieres at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 8 at the Murray E. Nelson Government and Cultural Center, located at 102050 Overseas Highway. Discount tickets can be bought for $13 at three locations: Key Largo Chocolates at mile marker 100.5, bayside; Shear Paradise at mile marker 99.3, oceanside; and at the PostNet store at mile marker 88 in Islamorada.

Regularly priced tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the door or at thekeyplayers.org. The final opportunity to see the show will be at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 18.

cwickenhofer@keysnews.com