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The man behind the music in ‘A 1940s Radio Christmas Carol’

David Wohl may not live in Jonesborough, but this holiday season, his music will entertain theater-goers in Tennessee’s oldest town.
Wohl, a native Pennsylvanian, is the man behind the music in “A 1940s Radio Christmas Carol,” the newest production at the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre which will run Dec. 5 – 20.
The show is live radio show meets Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
It’s an unusual mix that calls for some innovative music.
Enter Wohl. He didn’t go looking for the job to do the music for the show – the job came to him.
“Walton Jones, the creator of the original, ubiquitous ‘The 1940s Radio Hour,’ originally approached me to arrange six well-known Christmas carols, to be sung during the epilogue of ‘A 1940s Radio Christmas Carol,’ Wohl said. “Sensing additional possibility for the show, I suggested that the carols be interspersed throughout the show, rather than just placed at the end, so as to emulate a conventional musical; and, that I write an original song expressly for the show.”
Jones liked both ideas and asked Wohl to write the song. While he was happy with the music he wrote, he struggled with the lyrics and invited lyricist, Faye Greenberg, to join in the project.
“We wrote ‘Quiet Night,’ the romantic ballad at the end of the show’s ‘broadcast’ – a song that expresses the love, hope and family warmth of the holiday season,” Wohl said.
That song inspired Jones and he wanted more. He requested two more numbers, which became the upbeat novelty tunes, ‘Newark’ and ‘A Coconut Christmas.’
After the show ran to sold-out crowds, pre-publication, in Fort Collins, Colo., Wohl added a fourth song to the show, written for the brassy, flippant character, Margie. The song, “That Cute Little Elf,” is now part of the show that Jonesborough audiences will see.
Wohl grew up in Philadelphia where music was always part of his family life. “There was always music in our house and records from musical theater,” he said. “Art and history books were found across different rooms in our house and our family often attended concerts and theater.”
Although no one in his family was a professional musician, Wohl’s mother and sister played the piano, his dad played the flute and his brother, the piano and oboe.
“My own musical beginning was that of the baby brother, say three or four years old, hopping onto the piano bench when my sister wasn’t using it,” Wohl said.
“I was immediately enthralled with the endless possibilities of combining notes and harmonies, making up songs, without technically knowing what I was doing,” he added. “Ever since, it has been a love affair with the piano.”
Wohl took classical lessons and played in a variety of school ensembles and orchestras, as well as singing in choirs. By his teens, he had added jazz piano lessons to his activities. Even though he was more comfortable at the piano, Wohl stretched his talents, acting in a few small parts in several high school plays. At the age of 16, at a summer camp in the Pocono Mountains, he landed his first leading role as Henry Higgins, in “My Fair Lady”.
He obtained a liberal arts degree from Oberlin College and studied music composition at Roosevelt and Northwestern Universities in Chicago, eventually receiving his doctorate from McGill University in Montreal.
“I began playing gigs in Chicago, in venues ranging from hotels to comedy clubs to musical theater,” Wohl said. “These diverse gigs taught me early on how to improvise and compose in many styles, to adapt quickly to changing scripts and situations, to collaborate with directors and actors, meet deadlines, to combine thought and intuition, to always seek joy in entertaining and to never stop learning from both mistakes and successes.”
It was during this time that Wohl also composed for his first television show, a morning children’s program on CBS, which required him to write songs for each week’s episode. Those early experiences helped him lay the foundation for his future work in musical theater, television and multimedia projects. His work has been part of programming for the likes of PBS, Animal Planet as well as the Food and Discovery channels.
Wohl hasn’t slowed down since and says 2014 promises to be another enjoyable and creative year.
“Faye Greenberg (High School Musical), Katy DiSavino (Nana’s Naughty Knickers), and I have embarked on a new, fun musical – yet to be named – which we hope to complete in 2014,” he said.