You’re flipping down your radio dial on a Saturday and hear sustained raspy laughter followed by amplified snorts—what’s so funny? Hanging in to find out, you hear some woman from Dubuque imitating the rattle of her muffler. What is this? Then there they are, the thicker than chowdah Boston accents of “Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers,” maneuvering smoothly from a muffler tip to a safe-for-NPR put-down that will send them into a fresh round of hysterics. Somehow, you can’t change the station.
It’s Boston’s best loved radio export: Car Talk, a call-in show in which vehicular quandaries serve as a jumping off point for insults, puns and brain-teasers. First broadcast in 1977, it’s an institution. But you’ve never heard it like this.
How did this strange sounding, uniquely Bostonian production come to be? Via email, Blast asked Wesley Savick, the accomplished director, actor, playwright, founder of the National Theater of Allston and Suffolk University professor who dreamt it up.
BLAST: What appeals to you about “Car Talk” the radio show?
SAVICK: Oddly, not the automotive advice…and I’ve discovered there are many others who feel this way! The most appealing thing about “Car Talk” is Tom and Ray. Spending time in their presence is not only a pleasure, it’s an affirmation. To own a car is to know the possibility of intense bitterness. Tom and Ray, through their humor and goodwill, help us all avoid this possibility.
BLAST: What made you think it would make a good musical?
SAVICK: We love and hate our cars. Any material which deals with strong human emotions has musical possibilities. After all, the characters have to be inspired to sing.
BLAST: What were some of the biggest adapting challenge?
SAVICK: Two huge challenges: Finding the write voices for Tom and Ray, and creating a storyline which captures the spirit of their show.
BLAST: Did you collaborate with the Tappet Brothers? Have they weighed in?
SAVICK: The Tappet Brothers appear in the musical as “The Wizard of Cahs,” a twelve-foot high automotive puppet. They generously supply the voices (and character!) for this creation. Additionally, they’ve been to several rehearsals and appeared to be enjoying themselves.
BLAST: Any apprehension about pleasing Car Talk fanatics?
SAVICK: Nothing but!
BLAST: Did the cast know Car Talk going in? Were there crash courses (so to speak)?
SAVICK: Many of them did know the show. Many others knew it because of their parents. The rest went online.
BLAST: Have you seen this video? What do you think of it?
SAVICK: “Car Talk: The Musical!!!” is one of the first shows I’ve written which has nothing to do with politics. So I’m thrilled if it could unintentionally stir up some controversy.
BLAST: Any future plans for NPR musicals? “Fresh Air?” “This American Life?”
SAVICK: I’ve always thought “Science Friday” would make a scintillating operetta.
“Car Talk: The Musical!!!” runs from March 31 through April 3.