The TODAY anchors recently swapped the safety of Studio 1A for the mean streets found in the 1940s comedy radio play “Murder in Studio One.”
On April 27, Savannah Guthrie, Hoda Kotb, Al Roker, Craig Melvin, Sheinelle Jones, Jenna Bush Hager, Dylan Dreyer and several correspondents from the NBC News family got together — and got into character — off-Broadway for a live reading of Norman Corwin’s satirical tale.
And on Wednesday morning, TODAY viewers got to take a peek behind the scenes at the production that turned a couple of familiar faces into investigators and even more of them into murder suspects.
The one-night-only show about the death of a radio announcer, made in conjunction with Audible and performed to a packed house at Audible’s Minetta Lane Theater, actually required months of preparation.
As Savannah put it, “Just pulling this off had more twists and turns than the mystery itself."
After all, while they're all television talents, acting doesn't exactly come naturally to everyone.
“No, I have no acting in my blood,” Craig stated adamantly as he got ready to transform into coroner Lionel Bumbridge. “Not at all. No. This is all new to me and a bit uncomfortable, quite frankly.”
Jenna, aka ingenue Gladys Pinkney, grew up hoping to become an actress one day and compared herself to “a musical theatre kid,” one “without the talent.”
And what of Hoda and Savannah, who played detective Cameo Klopf and her secretary, Minerva Hammersmith, respectively?
Before embodying the characters with gritty, old-time New York accents, Hoda confessed, “I know two accents really well: British and Southern.” And after sampling her British offering, she added, “That wasn’t good.”
As for Savannah, she didn’t really have a stronger repertoire.
“If the accent had been 1980s valley girl, I would have crushed it,” she noted. “I don’t know why I couldn’t have gotten an easier part.”
Lucky for the leading ladies, Hollywood dialect coach Jordan Yanco came in to help them and the rest of the cast capture the authentic sound for each of the over-the-top parts.
So, eventually, when Hoda delivered the line “Minnie, make a note of that” (over and over again), she nailed it.
Not that accents were the only obstacle ahead of showtime.
“What could send this production off the rails?” asked Al as the performance day grew nearer. “How many of us are in the play? Any one of us could send this off the rails.”
But Al assumed the role of aspiring singer Elwyn Repell with aplomb. In fact, after rehearsing every element of the play — from curtains up to the final bow — the whole cast rose to the occasion.
Or as “Dateline’s” Keith Morrison, who made for a fitting narrator in the whodunit, said, the ensemble “brought this death to life.”
See for yourself:
Norman Corwin’s “Murder in Studio One” was adapted for Audible and TODAY with permission and assistance from the Norman Corwin Administrative Trust.