BWW Review: IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A LIVE RADIO PLAY at Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre In Kansas City
Metropolitan Theatre Ensemble opens a time warp to the 1940's with the hit show It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, written by Joe Landry. This latest in a number of well-crafted productions transforms the audience into an authentic radio audience, complete with applause signs and commercial jingles. The beloved story comes to life so completely it is as if Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed were being channeled right before the viewer's eyes.
Imagine being there in 1946 when Frank Capra was first putting the famed movie together and feel like you are eavesdropping on the early script readings before filming began. This is the atmosphere the MET has created in their space, which is well suited for such a venture. So unfolds the familiar fable about George Bailey the upright citizen of the fictitious Bedford Falls. As a child he 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.
Karen Paisley directs this MET production which fantastically recreates a long past era of Americana with actors apparently reading from scripts, hilarious sung commercials for Bremel Hair Tonic and Dux Toiletries, and an ensemble of "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 MitchellA. Bates accompanying on the piano with well placed familiar tunes.
Director Paisley's has cast a perfectly teamed ensemble. Jordan Fox, as George Bailey, retains all of the affable traits Jimmy Stewart brought to the original role without trying to mimic him. Fox recreates the energy and enthusiasm that made Stewart famous and endearing, much to the enjoyment of the MET audience. Rebecca Ralstin, as George's sweet and stalwart wife Mary, makes her seem so familiar that the illusion almost becomes real. Ralstin pairs up flawlessly with Fox and makes the story believable, even though most has to be accomplished vocally without playing out each scene as would be done on a movie set with changing props, costumes and backdrops. Alan Tilson crafts a Clarence who is slightly less bumbling than Wynn in the movie and his vulnerable eccentricity is well played. His grasp of the character is apparent from the moment he enters the room, as if he is method in the moment. Chuck Pulliam hosts the radio show and also has an infectiously great time as wicked Potter, and Bob Paisley plays so many different roles he's a wonder to watch as he pulls one rabbit after another out of his magical acting hat. The remaining ensemble members Brie Henderson, Cori Weber, Valerie Bracken-Dykes, Zachrey York, Brad Dawdy, Jordan Haas, Reese Betts, Salem Deal, Brenna Bridge, and Charlie Weber pitch in to the whole effort making it all the more funny, entertaining and a sentimental treat.
IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A LIVE RADIO PLAY runs December 7th through December 17th at Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, 3614 Main St, Kansas City, MO. Adult tickets are $30, with discounts for students, artists, and groups. For tickets, call 816-569-3226. Visit www.metkc.org for more information or to purchase tickets online.
Photos courtesy of MET