BWW Reviews: IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A LIVE RADIO PLAY at Westport Community Theatre
One of the staples of the holiday season is watching Frank Capra's classic film, It's a Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. For those of us who prefer theater, Westport Community Theatre has brought us this holiday classic live and onstage. Presented as a 1946 radio program, this live version is a thoroughly enjoyable production that packs the same emotional punch as the heartwarming film, and can surely become a new holiday tradition.
The story of George Bailey, the honest, hard-working building and loan clerk, vs. the conniving Scrooge-like tycoon, Henry Potter, who is intent on buying up the town and keeping its citizens in perpetual poverty, was political enough to earn an FBI warning that the film was subversive Communist propaganda. Setting aside politics, its hopeful message of the triumph of the common man still resonates today, and its poignancy is particularly powerful at this time of the year. The aid of a bumbling angel named Clarence and a frightening dystopian vision of a future without the likes of George Bailey sets the story squarely in the fantasy realm, but the genuine emotions evoked are grounded enough to elicit real tears.
This cathartic Christmas cry comes thanks to the skillful direction of Richard Mancini and the versatile performances of the strong cast. Travis Branch portrays George Bailey with all of the earnest, "aw-shucks" good guy sensibility that makes him a hero that you want to root for in his struggles against Potter, and who you genuinely feel for in his darkest moments. Tom Petrone is also wonderful in his multi-faceted roles as the radio announcer, Henry Potter, and Uncle Billy. It is particularly fascinating to watch him switch from one character to another, arguing with himself in particular scenes, leaving me to wonder if he has had previous voice-over experience.
Other standouts include Linda Gilmore as Mary Hatch and the Bailey's young child Zuzu, and the comic turns of P.J. Morello as Clarence, the angel on the verge of getting his wings. Rounding out the cast are Leslie Jones as Violet Bick and Larry Greeley as Mr. Gower and other characters from Bedford Falls.
Other enjoyable aspects of this production of It's a Wonderful Life are the 1940's costumes by Mary Kulcsar and the radio studio set by Al Kulcsar with its ingenious prop table that the actors use to produce the sound effects for the radio program.
I'm not ashamed to say that as a sucker for Christmas schmaltz, I cried buckets as the show came to its heartfelt conclusion, but that only added to my enjoyment of this production. I would have been a disgruntled reviewer if the play could not touch my heart as much as the movie does, and I'm glad to say that Westport Community Theatre does not disappoint. If you are looking for the same type of emotional experience, or if you want to jump start that old holiday spirit, this is the show for you.
It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play runs through December 14th at Westport Town Hall. Call 203-226-1983 or visit www.westportcommunitytheatre.com for tickets.
Photo Credit: The cast of It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play at Westport Community Theatre