BWW Review: IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE RADIO PLAY at Ridgefield Theater Barn
On Thursday, December 6, I had the pleasure of experiencing IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE RADIO PLAY at the Ridgefield Theater Barn in Ridgefield, CT. Under the brilliant direction of Erik Tonner, this production is adapted from the original 1947 Lux Theater Broadcast. It is based on the classic booklet The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern that was made into a film in 1946, called, It's A Wonderful Life. It is an excellent selection for the Christmas season and in my strongly held opinion, still remains one of the absolute greatest fictional stories ever written.
I knew this production would be a wonderful experience since all shows at the Ridgefield Theater Barn always are, whether musicals, one acts, or regular plays, but having never seen a radio play before, I wasn't exactly sure what to technically expect in terms of how the show would be presented. I imagine many people read the words "radio play," and also may be curious as to what that exactly means, so I will explain. It is a live simulation of a radio broadcast, with the theater audience simulating a live studio audience. All the radio players (cast members) are on stage at all times, but only the ones presently speaking are up front by the microphones. On stage right there is a sound effects booth run by two people (Jose Alves and Valerie Huegel) known as Foley artists who provide remarkably authentic sounding live sound effects. Hanging from the top of the stage is an electric sign that indicates when the show is on the air, and indicates times for the audience to applaud. There is no intermission, but there are live spoken commercials for Lux Toilet Soap between the three acts. The radio players have their books in front of them, yet all the lines are delivered with natural tones.
The deeply moving beauty of this timeless story is just as strong when presented in this radio play format, largely due to the Ridgefield Theater Barn's consistent finding of excellent talent of all ages, including children, in this ensemble cast. Scott Schulte stars as George Bailey and brilliantly uses facial expressions and hand motions to enhance the authenticity of his vocal tones while delivering his lines, effectively selling every line in this challenging role. Larry Greeley is convincing as the conniving antagonist, Mr. Potter. Some other standout performances come from Christine Hruska as Mary, Rick Haylon as Clarence, and David Fritsch as Uncle Billy.
For those unfamiliar with this fictional story, itself, it is about a man George Bailey who has shown kindness, hard work, and self-sacrifice throughout his life, yet always felt a longing for more, and a desire to experience life outside of his hometown of Bedford Falls, NY. One Christmas Eve night, after a sudden personal financial disaster occurs, George turns cold and bitter, despairing for his own life, planning to commit suicide. Yet, the people he touched with his loving kindness, including his wife and children, turn to prayer, as does George, and Heaven responds by sending a guardian angel named Clarence who must first learn about George's life, and then is assigned with the daunting and challenging task of saving George's life and making George desire to live once again.
The story is very inspirational in that it helps show the power of prayer and that we all must turn to God to find fulfillment for that longing that we feel in our hearts. It shows what a profound positive impact we can have on others through kindness and compassion, and the chain reaction of goodness that such selfless acts can lead to. It helps inspire us to appreciate everyone and everything in our lives and to focus on all our positive blessings that we should be grateful for. Furthermore, it demonstrates how we can trust that following God's plan for our lives ultimately leads to greater true riches, contentment, and inner peace than whatever we would have otherwise planned for ourselves, even when we may not feel that way during given moments along the path.
I highly recommend IT"S A WONDERFUL LIFE RADIO PLAY which is appropriate for all audiences, and is scheduled to continue running at the Ridgefield Theater Barn in Ridgefield CT, through December 16, 2018, every Friday and Saturday at 8:00 P.M., with Sunday matinees on December 9, and December 16, at 2:00 P.M. For tickets, please go to Tickets. If you have never seen a live radio play before, this production is the ultimate first experience of that nature. It is truly an enjoyable time for all involved.