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It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play

a Radio Theatre
CATEGORY : COMEDY
by Adapted by Joe Landry

COMPANY : Theatrical Outfit [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Balzer Theatre @ Herren's [WEBSITE]
ID# 3205

SHOWING : December 03, 2008 - December 21, 2008

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

This fresh twist on the Frank Capra holiday film classic transforms the stage into a circa 1940s radio studio, complete with inventive sound effects, seasonal music and a cast of five busy actors who recreate the 55 characters of Bedford Falls, NY. Ala “Prairie Home Companion,” the play celebrates how even in the poorest of times, we can be truly rich.


CAST & CREW LIST
Sound Design & Musical Director Chris Bartelski
Props Design M. C. Park
Jake Laurents/ George Bailey Hugh Adams
Harry "Jazzbo" Haywood/ Clarence Oddbody Brik Berkes
Sally Applewhite/ Mary Hatch Bailey Shayne Kohout
Lana Sherwood/ Zuzu Bailey Mary Lynn Owen
Freddie Fillmore/Announcer/Henry F. Pott Barry Stoltze
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REVIEWS

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WBFG Redux
by Dedalus
Friday, December 19, 2008
5.0
For the second year, Theatrical Outfit has staged the marvelous Joe Landry Radio Version of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It’s just as marvelous, just as memorable as last year’s mounting, so, in keeping with my lingeringly lazy vacation mind-set, here are some of my (edited) comments from last year.

Rather than stage this story with a large multi-set production with oodles of performers, including children (a sure tactic to fill the seats at Christmastime), Theatrical Outfit has chosen to set the story in a 1940’s Radio Studio with five performers doing everything as a Radio Play. To build on a theme I started a few weeks ago with “Swimming Upstream” (and should have continued with my comments on the Tavern’s “Christmas Carol”) this is a production of Readers Theatre as it should be. It’s not a few tired folks droning through a script while the audience struggles for alertness. It’s is a troupe of well-trained actors using many characters to create a story in your mind. The “scripts” look like period Radio scripts, and, it’s an added pleasure to watch them create sound effects, music, and excitement with only their voices and a few true-to-period props.

Joe Landry’s adaptation also makes a few changes from the Capra film, including a George Bailey/Zuzu scene that’s a delight. I’ve always had a problem with the scene where George blows up at his kids then storms out – this version mellows him, and makes his breakdown more sensible and realistic. And, it’s nicely underscored by his other daughter’s piano “practice” that suddenly becomes more gentle and accurate. The whole production made me long for the old AMC Series “Remember WENN” (and when WILL that be out on DVD?), and that’s a good thing.

In the acting department, the cast was given the thankless job of doing impressions of the Movie Cast (the radio studio is, after all, billing this as “Frank Capra’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’”), and, for the most part, succeed. Barry Stolze’s Lionel Barrymore-esque Potter is especially right on. If Hugh Adams doesn’t exactly make us believe he’s Jimmy Stewart, he does make us believe he’s George Bailey. And what’s wrong with that? The cast is filled out with Shayne Kohout as Mary Bailey (and others), Brik Berkes as Harry Bailey (and others), and Mary Lynn Owen as Violet Bick (and others. 2008 Digression – Last year, I praised her Zuzu as sounding like a real girl, not like an adult pretending to be a girl. This year, for some reason, I wasn’t as convinced. Odd, that!). They also play the 1940’s actors playing these roles, and are quite wonderful at it. Last year, I complained that these “Framing Story” characters aren’t developed any deeper than simple stereotypes – slicked-back movie star, diva Broadway star, old-time character man, etc etc. This year, that seemed to be enough. Do we really need to know more about them? Maybe this year I was able to see beneath the broad-stroke characterizations to see a more human subtext-face.

It should be noted that this is the same cast as last year, and, beyond my insignificant Zuzu quibble, they are still fresh and original, as if this were their first time at the mikes.

As to the story itself, well, after playing Potter a few years ago, I tend to look at it through Potter-tinted glasses, and tend to see the characters more unattractive aspects, as well as the sometimes-hard-to-swallow effect George’s character has on the whole town (can one person really keep an entire town from descending into trailer-trash rabblehood who find beating up the local drunk a source of fun?). But, for once, that didn’t distract from the story as presented here. It works on the same levels the movie works, and seems especially suited to this format.

I hope Theatrical Outfit makes this a regular Holiday Tradition – I enjoyed it last year, I enjoyed it this year, and I hope to enjoy it for many years to come.

It really is a Wonderful Production!

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)


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