BWW Review: IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A LIVE RADIO PLAY at Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre At The Warwick
The Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre is creating a Kansas City tradition with the return of it's seasonal hit performance of "It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play." This well-crafted production, written by Joe Landry, transports the audience to the 1940's as it authentically recreates the atmosphere of a live radio production, complete with commercial jingles and applause signs.
This year's show, under the direction of Karen Paisley, is as uplifting as ever as it tells the love and redemption story of George Bailey and The Town of Bedford Falls. While growing up George had broad ambitions to go to college, travel, become and architect, but circumstances block him at every turn. His father dies suddenly from a stroke leaving the family business "Bailey Brothers Building and Loan" in George's hands.
George marries and starts a family while fighting the schemes of wealthy, yet soulless, capitalist Mr. Potter. After Uncle Billy loses a Building & Loan deposit to a conniving Potter, George is up to his neck in trouble. George, with real thoughts of suicide, is interrupted by his guardian angle (second class) Clarence, who is determined to set George back on the right path and in turn earn his wings. The bumbling Clarence reveals what life in Bedford Falls would be like if George had never lived. A "George-less" Pottersville suffers under the unrestrained control of Mr. Potter and the successes of the townsfolk are but dust in the wind in the altered reality. George sees the disaster his absence creates and races back to Mary and the kids with renewed hope and the true spirit of the holidays.
The acting ensemble includes many from past season performances, and a few new. They bring the popular story to life by not only acting out the characters, but by also performing
hilarious commercials for Bremel Hair Tonic and Dux Toiletries. The group double as "Foley men and women, "visibly creating sound effects like clomping shoes, doors slamming and high winds with a variety of ingenious, low-tech objects - is very effective. The set and costumes are period perfect and lend themselves to this fun illusion, as does Brian Mitchell Bates accompanying on the piano with well placed familiar tunes.
Once again, Paisley has assembled a perfectly teamed cast. Jordan Fox, returns as George Bailey, in the "every man" role popularized in the film by Jimmy Stewart. Fox seems as fresh in the role as ever as his robust energy and affability pull the audience in from the start. Rebecca Ralstin, as George's sweet and stalwart wife Mary, gives warmth to the character that becomes part of what propels George to come to his senses. Fox and Ralstin are a winning duo as they convey the love story without all the props, costumes and scenery a film version would afford.
Alan Tilson, as Clarence the Angel, provides great comic relief for a story that could get too Potter heavy. Tilson makes Clarence both eccentric and a bit feeble yet in a most lovable way. Chuck Pulliam, in dual roles as the radio show host and the villainous Mr. Potter, with his rich baritone voice is equally suited for both roles. His ability to sound so friendly as the host is balanced by an equally imposing Potter.
Bob Paisley keeps the revolving door of characters he plays spinning effortlessly. The remaining ensemble members Brie Henderson, Cori Weber, Cindy Siefers, Matthew Emerick, Ryan Fortney, Victoria Barbee, Gabe Traub , Holly Lichtenauer, Brenna Grace, and Charlie Weber keep this sentimental favorite moving and fun.
Create your own holiday tradition by sharing this classic with friends and family. This show will vanquish your inner Grinch, Scrooge, and Potter as you leave humming Auld Lang Syne! The show is performed without intermission and runs a bit over an hour.
IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A LIVE RADIO PLAY runs December 6th through December 16th at Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre in the Warwick Theatre, 3927 Main St, Kansas City, MO 64111. There is ample parking behind the building. For tickets, call 816-569-3226. Visit www.metkc.org for more information or to purchase tickets online.
Photos courtesy of MET