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It's a Wonder Ful Life

CATEGORY :
by Adapted by Joe Landry

COMPANY : Theatrical Outfit [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Balzer Theatre @ Herren's [WEBSITE]
ID# 2631

SHOWING : December 07, 2007 - December 23, 2007

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

YOU ARE THERE in the studios of WBGF Radio, as a cracker-jack 5-person team puts on a Radio Production of Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life." This classic story is forms in your imagination as Our Cast breaths new life into instantly recognized characters as they play music and create realistic sound effects using everything from celery sticks (Ice breaking) to Corn Starch (walking in snow).


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REVIEWS

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Remember WBFG
by Dedalus
Wednesday, January 2, 2008
5.0
I really must apologize to you. I saw this production one day before it closed, and, with Holiday Mania driving every task out of my head, I’m not getting around to writing this until now (12/26). This is an apology, because, quite simply, this is one of the best productions I’ve seen this year, and, by far, the best production of this particular story. And now you’ve missed it.

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 echo Tom Key’s program notes, this is a production of Readers Theatre as it should be, not a few tired folks droning through a script while the audience struggles for alertness, but well-trained actors using many characters to create a story in your mind. 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 scene 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), Mary Lynn Owen as Violet Bick (and others – pay attention to her Zuzu – she sounds like a real girl, not like an adult pretending to be a girl), Brik Berkes as Harry Bailey (and others). They also play the 1940’s actors playing these roles, and are quite wonderful at it. If I have one complaint (and when don’t I?), it’s 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.

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.

I hope Theatrical Outfit makes this a regular Holiday Tradition – you really should try to see it if it’s revived next year. I know I will. Have a great and safe New Year!

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

Postscript: My Potter Backstory – I keep threatening to actually sit down and write this out as a story. Now, after seeing this production, I just might have to do it.

“Crawling, to Potter”

First Scene – 10-year-old Henry (NEVER Harry) Potter has just been released from the hospital after his bout with polio. He is still learning how to maneuver his wheelchair. One one snowy day, he is struggling down the street past the Bailey home. He falls off and has to struggle to get back on. Teenage George Bailey (IAWL’s George’s Grandfather) is walking by with some friends, and they cruelly taunt Henry, even going so far as to steal his wheelchair. Henry has to crawl through two miles of snow to get back to the poor home he shares with his father. No one has offered to help, many laugh as he struggles home.

Second Scene – This’n’s still a little fuzzy, but it involves Old George’s son Billy actually helping Henry with something and showing some kindness. Old George whacks Billy on the Head so hard he is concussed and hospitalized for over a week. Billy’s never the same after that. Henry also falls in love, but, of course, it ends unhappily.

Third Scene – Contemporaneous with the action in IAWL. Henry has discovered one of the characters (I’m thinking Mary) is actually his offspring from the Scene 2 Relationship. After his “triumph” over Young George, he realizes it’s an empty victory, and will never make up for the childhood that was stolen from him, or the family he never knew.

Yeah, I know, it needs work …

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