REVIEW: American Theatre’s “Its a Wonderful Life”

| November 30, 2009

its-a-wonderful-life-foley

American Theatre Company presents:

It’s a Wonderful Life: The Radio Play

Adapted from the film by Frank Capra
Screenplay written by
Goodrich, Hackett, Swerling and Capra
Based on a short story by
Philip Van Doren Stern
Directed by
Jason Gerace
Thru December 27th  (ticket info)

reviewed by Katy Walsh

microphone “Man’s suicide thwarted on Christmas Eve” sounds like a newspaper headline, not the premise of a holiday tradition. In American Theatre’s 8th-annual production, Frank Capra’s 1946 film, It’s a Wonderful Life, based on the book The Greatest Gift, is re-imagined on stage as a radio play. Though most have seen the movie, the story deals with a distraught businessman George Bailey who eventually considers killing himself so his family may benefit from a life insurance policy. Clarence, angel second class, tries to earn his wings by helping George understand significance of his life. Performed in 80 minutes without an intermission, American Theatre Company’s It’s a Wonderful Life: The Radio Play is a nicely wrapped holiday gift.

It could possibly be said that Wonderful Life is the original dramedy. The plot is Hollywood’s schmaltzy tragedy with a “feel good” happy ending. Within the story of a suicide attempt, the Capra team has created strong characters delivering memorable lines. “Why don’t you kiss her instead of talking her to death?”, “Youth is wasted on the wrong people.”, “No gin tonight, son!”, “Get me…I’m giving out wings.”, “Excuse me! Excuse me! I burped!”, “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings,” and the ever powerful, “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” The timeless lines invoke the familiar swirl of sentimental tears and chuckles.

Starting with this strong, beloved script, director Jason Gerace adds a cast of nine members to perform the Christmas classic. The stage is the broadcast room at radio station WATC. The radio announcer (Alex Goodrich) begins the show by prepping the studio audience with “on the air” protocols and the importance of the APPLAUSE sign lighting up. Alan Wilder, playing two key roles – Clarence and Mr. Potter, perfectly mimics the original performances of Henry Travers and Lionel Barrymore. As crotchety old Potter, Wilder mockingly delivers, “You see, if you shoot pool with some employee here, you can come and borrow money.”  Later, as Clarence, Wilder innocently requests, “Mulled wine, light on the cinnamon heavy on the cloves. Off with ya lad and be lively!”

Another player that provides dead-on imitations of multiple characters is Jessie Fisher. As man-eater Violet, Fisher seductively says, “What? This old thing? Why I only wear it when I don’t care how I look.” Then Fisher becomes 8 year old Zu-Zu with, “Not a smidge of temperature.” Although Kareem Bandealy is no Jimmy Stewart, his George Bailey gives a complex range of emotions of a dream seeker -small town hero- suicidal- “richest man in Bedford Falls.” Under the well-paced direction of Gerace, the multi-talented cast energetically lassoes the moon.

For a radio play performed as a stage play, the foley artist (the person who creates many of the natural, everyday sound effects for a live radio show) always adds an interesting element of sound production. With this show, this doesn’t seem to be occur. The foley artist (Rick Kubes) is set up on the side of the stage with various tools and techniques to add the sounds to the radio broadcast. Plunging in the river, clattering dishes, blizzard winds – these radio elements are not completely audibly realized. Kubes needs to crank up the volume! And speaking of audio, preshow, the audience is given an opportunity to write audiograms. During radio commercial breaks, the audiograms are delivered by the cast. Holiday greetings are mixed with requests for parking money as the messages are broadcasted to and from audience members. It’s a nice personal holiday touch and cheaper than buying cards.

 

Rating: ★★★

 

Production Cast

George Bailey Kareem Bandealy
Mr. Potter/Clarence Alan Wilder
Mr. Bailey/Joseph/Others Joe Minoso
Harry Bailey/Ernie/Others Bernard Balbot
Mary Hatch/Mrs. Bailey Mary Winn Heider
Violet/Mrs. Hatch/Others Jessie Fisher
Announcer/Others Alex Goodrich,
Foley Artist Rick Kubes
Pianinst Cheryl Parkes


Aside: Having his own flawless Zu-zu imitation, Bill describes the show as “authentic, delightful and talented cast.”

AFTER THE SHOW

After hearing three radio commercials for Mrs. Murphy’s and Sons Irish Bistro (3905 N. Lincoln Avenue), we decide to support the bar that supports the arts. Wanting life to imitate art, it would have been nice if someone cued up the snow for our It’s a Wonderful Life exit. Mrs. Murphy’s is an ideal destination in winter because it has a generous fireplace and a cozy ambiance. After ordering a couple glasses of wine, we waited for the bartender to say to Bill, Hey look, mister – we serve hard drinks in here for men who want to get drunk fast, and we don’t need any characters around to give the joint ‘atmosphere.’“ Didn’t happen! What else didn’t happen, a cash register ringing out wings! With advances in technology, many an angel second class must be struggling to earn wings. What did happen that night? Over a nice pinot noir, I was reminded that it is a wonderful life because “no man is a failure who has friends.” On that “Auld Lang Syne” note, it was time to go. The bartender delivered the bill muttering, “That’s it. Out you two pixies go – through the door, or out the window.”

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Category: 2009 Reviews, American Theater Company, Holiday Show, Katy Walsh

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