For the Love of Mic
Lady Esther is just the beginning of Diana Aday's vocal talents
By Randi Bjornstad
Radio Redux actors are known for their ability to hone many different voices and move seamlessly from one to the next — sometimes within the same scene — as the troupe performs its renditions of classic radio comedies and dramas.
Diana Aday is no exception. In fact, she probably cemented her claim to that fame the very first time she appeared in a Radio Redux production.
“It was back in 2011, and Radio Redux did a fundraising performance of A Christmas Carol at the Pleasant Hill Community Theater,” Diana recalled. “I guess someone must have said I might be capable, because I had three parts in that show. I was Tiny Tim, his family’s cat
and the boy that Scrooge yells out the window to on Christmas morning when he says, ‘What day is it?’ ”
She laughs. “I think the audience really liked my cat the best.”
Her next role came a year later when Fred Crafts and his company did The Philadelphia Story, a Broadway show made even more famous when made into a 1940 movie starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and James Stewart. Lux Radio Theater did the show on air in 1942 and 1943.
“I played Margaret Lord, the mom of the Katharine Hepburn character, Tracy Lord,” Diana said. Her husband, Don Aday, also a perennial Radio Redux player, played C.K. Dexter, ex-husband of the socialite Tracy Lord.
“Don had already started doing Radio Redux shows before me,” Diana said. “But we often threw cast parties, so I knew most of the people who were involved.”
Both Adays also have appeared in productions at the Very Little Theatre through the years, where Diana recently played in Neil Simon’s 45 Seconds to Broadway.
Diana performs as a stiff house mother in Radio Redux's hit Stage Door. Photo by August Frank.
Lady Esther debuts
In Radio Redux’s 2018 reprise of Arsenic and Old Lace, last performed by the troupe in 2014, Diana takes the role of Lady Esther, a part she finessed years ago.
“For one production, they needed someone to do old-style commercials, so we set it up to be an audience participation kind of thing, where Lady Esther asks questions and the audience responds,” Diana says. “As a character, she’s a trifle full of herself. The whole thing is nonsense, but it’s a kind of nonsense I think we need more of.”
The Lady Esther character is known for talking to women about facial creams and other products she peddles, “and she always gives them a ‘word of the day,’ such as p-l-e-t-h-o-r-a,” Diana said, elongating the word and liberally rolling the letter “r.”
Other favorite words of the day might include a-r-u-g-u-l-a and r-u-t-a-b-a-g-a, which Lady Esther manages to integrate into her sales pitches.
Crafts appreciates Diana’s versatility.
“Diana has been with us for a long time, specializing in character voices like the Good Witch in Alice in Wonderland.” As for her Lady Esther character in Arsenic and Old Lace: “That brought down the house,” Crafts said.
According to the baby book compiled by her mother, “I was always dramatic,” Diana said. “She said I could sing before I could talk — I would sing ‘di do, di do’ with the notes a perfect octave apart.”
Diana grew up in Medford with a mother who herself was a singer as well as an accountant. Her father had multiple jobs, including medical illustration, appraising, preaching and drawing police sketches of suspects.
Mother and daughter took voice lessons from the same teacher. “She was a retired singer from the Metropolitan Opera, so I called her the Met Vet,” Diana quipped. “I studied opera for 10 years, and both my mother and I sang with the Medford Light Opera Company."
"Diana has been with us for a long time," said Radio Redux founder and director Fred Crafts, "specializing in character voices" including that of Lady Esther.
Before moving to Eugene in 1964, Diana sang in choirs and performed at weddings. She also worked in a state health laboratory for a couple of years, processing blood tests.
“But I always loved performing, and I did it whenever I could,” she recalled. Gilbert & Sullivan operettas were among her favorites, in particular the role of Yum-Yum in The Mikado, which she sang in a University of Oregon production.
At 75, she’s “had a lot of practice,” the irrepressible Diana said. “I sang with the Eugene Concert Choir and Eugene Opera, and I was a special education instructor for 18 years. My experience acting and singing came in handy for that, because it really helped me keep the kids’ attention.”
In fact, she and husband Don Aday met while performing with the Eugene Opera chorus.
“Time after time after time, we ended up being thrown together in different scenes,” Diana said. “Chorus members always have numbers, and I remember my first words to him when we got our position assignments — ‘I’m 12, you must be 42.’ ”
Much as she loves acting, Diana also would like to do more singing again.
She performed a couple of times at The Jazz Station in downtown Eugene several years ago, including an appearance with well-known Eugene vocalist Siri Vik, who also trained in opera but has branched out into many other styles.
“It was a good thing — it gave me a chance to move from classical to torch,” Diana said. “And I do love being onstage. If you took a core sample of me, I’d be pure ham.”
Frankly, she admitted, “I love microphones. To me, having a microphone in front of me is just like licking ice cream.”
The delights of radio
Diana relishes performing with Radio Redux “because the people there are really a family.
“We all have the same passion for performing,” she said, “and Fred Crafts is just a marvel at putting these shows together.”
Diana's Radio Redux poster collection. Photo by Randi Bjornstad.
Being part of Radio Redux is especially enjoyable for people like her, who grew up listening to radio rather than watching television, Diana said.
“I loved listening to radio shows as I was growing up — except for one,” she said. “When I was little, I thought one show was called ‘the red skeleton show’ instead of ‘The Red Skelton show,’ and I would run out of the room whenever it came on.”
Even as a child, she never experienced stage fright, and now in her older years she never has qualms about taking on any part, especially in a radio show.
“I can still be a little kid, I can be a ‘valley girl,’ and I can be anything else I want to be,” Diana said. “I have wonderful memories of all the roles I have done — and I’m not done yet. When you’re doing something you really love, it helps your whole life.”
Randi Bjornstad's other arts reporting can be seen at eugenescene.org