Song & Stage

Review: ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ Is a New Tradition that Should Stick Around a Long Time

Frank Capra’s classic 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life is a whopping two hours and 15 minutes—or three hours with commercials.

Joe Landry’s adaptation, It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, being staged this month at Southampton Cultural Center, compacts the story into just 70 minutes without losing any of the magic.

This is the second consecutive holiday season that Michael Disher, the director of Center Stage at Southampton Cultural Center, has put on this play, and if there is sustained interest it may become a longstanding annual Southampton tradition.

This unique play takes place in a 1940s radio studio, complete with glowing “on air” and “applause” signs. It’s Christmas Eve and a number of voice actors and sound effect artists are putting on a live broadcast of It’s a Wonderful Life. Some actors have just one part, while others play several characters by changing their voices.

Well before curtain time, the cast, in the appropriate ’40s attire, is on stage warming up. Then an announcer introduces the “Playhouse of the Air” for the listening audience, and the story begins.

In order to accommodate the format and the abridged runtime, this adaptation does diverge a bit from the screenplay. However, to anyone who has seen the film, the story will ring familiar. For those who have not, it is a great way to be introduced to a great story that promotes gratitude, hope, sacrifice, resilience and more American values. In short, George, who has often given up on his dreams in service of others, is potentially in deep trouble at no fault of his own, and he considers ending it all. Clarence is charged with showing George that just because he doesn’t have the life he expected, his life is no less valuable—and no less wonderful.

Barbra Jo Howard, Scout Whiting and Scott Wilson.
Barbra Jo Howard, Scout Whiting and Scott Wilson. Photo credit: Dane Dupuis

Scott Wilson as our protagonist, George Bailey, is a strong lead man who masterfully emotes George’s feelings from his happiest moments to his lowest of lows. Barbara Jo Howard complements Wilson’s George as Mary (née Hatch) Bailey. Golden voiced Robert Wilson sounds like he was born to play the Superintendent of Angels. Daniel Becker pulls double duty as Clarence (Angel Second Class) and the Scrooge-like Mr. Potter, and he excels as both. (Becker also played Scrooge when Disher and WPPB’s Bonnie Grice recorded a radio drama version of A Christmas Carol.) Amie Sponza and Rich Gardini also stand out in multiple roles.

Daniel Becker, Robert Nelson and Scott Wilson.
Daniel Becker, Robert Nelson and Scott Wilson. Photo credit: Dane Dupuis

Rounding out the excellent cast are Colette Gilbert, Kristin Guldi, Joan Lyons, Bill Kitzerow, Chris McCLain, Deborah Marshall, Robert Nelson, Tramar Pettaway, Kristin Whiting, Scout Whiting, Scott Wilson and Edna Winston.

With just voices and some sound effects, so much story is told in such a short span of time. After just an hour or so, the audience is infused with Christmas spirit and ready to take on the holiday season head on.

Remaining showtimes are Friday, November 27, at 5 and 7 p.m. and Sunday, November 29, at 2 and 5 p.m. in Southampton Cultural Center’s Levitas Center for the Arts, 25 Pond Ln, Southampton. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students under 21. Visit scc-arts.org, call 631 287-4377, or purchase tickets at the door.

 

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