BWW Reviews: IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE - A LIVE RADIO PLAY Offers New Twist on a Holiday Classic
Carrollwood Players have made their mark in the Tampa Bay Theatre scene, by producing innovative programming and exceptional, quality productions. This remains true with their latest "gift" to us, with a new twist on a Holiday Classic, (perfect for the entire family), "IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE" - A Live Radio Play.
As you enter theatre, director Jim Johnson, staged a pre-show, of the old vaudeville routine, "Who's On First", which many television audiences will recall from the days of "Abbott and Costello". Although I have seen this routine countless times, I found myself laughing out loud with the audience. It was a great warm-up, in line to the theme of the show, and performed very well.
The "play within a play", is a sentimental and heartwarming story, taking place in Bedford Falls, N.Y, at Christmastime in 1946. It revolves around George Bailey, who sets aside his dreams, to take over a family-run Building and Loan company. Mortgage dictator, Henry Potter wants to shut it down, to have complete control of the town. At a point of total despair, George needs a miracle to show him how much he means to his community.
The Carrollwood Players has a talented cast of 14, playing 42 characters, inspired by the classic American film, "It's a Wonderful Life". The Live Radio Play version is performed as a 1940's, live radio broadcast, in front of us, as the "studio audience". The detailed set by master designer, James Cass, depicts a vintage radio station, WCWP Studios in New York City, complete with lighted ON AIR and APPLAUSE signs, allowing the audience to participate in the production.
Director Jim Johnson cleverly staged the opening of the production, by having the characters naturally enter at various intervals, prior to the "actual" broadcast. This allowed the audience to experience the mood and atmosphere of what was about to be revealed. The use of recorded music from the era, in-between scenes smoothly transported our attention on a new locale and scene. Live, "singing commercials" advertising everything from hair tonic to soap cleansers were a nostalgic treat.
The talented cast is lead by an enthusiastic, Eddie Gomez as George Baily. Handsome, Brandon Wagner as Ernie, Mr Welch, Henry F. Potter commands the stage in every role he portrays. Rehema Bilali is lovely as Janie, Mary Hatch/Bailey and Sara Connolly is stunning as Ruth Bailey, Violet Bick, Young Violet, playing each role to perfection.
The highlight of of the production was Kelly Clow as Charlie, Clarence. Mr. Clow made a lovable and charming Clarence. His performance was outstanding.
Other standouts were Thomas Pahl as Bert, Billy Bailey, Ed, Nick, Peter, Chris Dietz as Matilda, Rose Bailey, Stephen Fox as Joseph, Sam Wainwright, Sheriff, Robert Carlson as Binky, Bridge Keeper, Cop, Dr Campbell, Old Man Gower, Man 1, Man 2, Old Man Collins, Schultz, Cameron Levine as Harry, Horace the Teller, Martini, Young George, Deb Kelley as Mrs. Hatch, MrS. Thompson, Gus Eberhard as Pete, Tommy, Young Harry Bailey, Judith Sachs as Sadie Vance, and Ellen Jannereth as Young Mary, Zuzu.
Laura Dietz as the Foley Artist was impressive. Ms. Dietz created dozens of vintage sound effects, from train whistles, to a scurrying pair of shoes on a countertop, to a fist-held rag, plunged into a bucket of water for a splash, to a special miniature wooden door for slamming and squeaking. Her audio and visual effects thoroughly enhanced the production.
Kudos to director Jim Johnson, for assembling a talented, well rehearsed cast. Mr. Johnson kept the show at a brisk pace in a seamless production. Lighting designer Frank Stinehour, added great warmth and focus to each scene. The sound design by Jim Johnson was well balanced and perfectly clear. Costume design by Chris Dietz was appropriately period. Stage Manager Paul Jannereth kept the production moving smoothly.
After seeing the film "It's a Wonderful Life", many, many times, I found this radio adaptation a nostalgic, memorable, delight! It was humorous and touching, and everything I was hoping it to be and more...