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BWW Review: New City Players Takes Us Home for the Holidays With IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE

Review: New City Players Takes Us Home for the Holidays With IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE

This live radio play runs until December 18 at Island City Stage.

The holidays are alive and well in South Florida. We may not have snow, but Floridians can enjoy boat parades and sunny days at the beach. This year, New City Players just created what could possibly be a brand-new Christmas tradition with their production of It's A Wonderful Life, which opened on December 2 at Island City Stage.

Based on the 1946 Frank Capra film of the same name, It's A Wonderful Life tells the tale of George Bailey, a man who contemplates suicide on Christmas Eve until he is saved by a guardian angel. In this adaptation by playwright Joe Landry, the story is presented in the style of a live radio broadcast where five actors play 43 characters and provide sound effects as Foley artists.

New City Players Producing Artistic Director Timothy Mark Davis stages this tour-de-force production. From the top of the show, Davis' direction transports audiences back in time to 1949 and the studio of WNCP. During the pre-show, the actors greet each other, exchange gifts, sing carols, and introduce themselves to the audience with a high-energy warmup.

Once the radio play-within-a-play commences, the show's ensemble remains focused onstage throughout the evening as they deliver their lines and sound cues. All five performers stay in sync with one another, allowing the show to move at an effortlessly cinematic pace.

Marcos Fuentes plays Jake Laurents, a leading actor in the role of George Bailey. Fuentes paints George with a diverse palate of emotional colors. While his performance is intentionally melodramatic, Fuentes' acting choices are grounded in reality. Moreover, his interactions with his fellow cast members are genuine and in the moment. Unfortunately, there are times when Fuentes' fast and emotionally-charged monologues are compromised by muddy diction. There also could have been opportunities for Fuentes to explore his vocal range when differentiating Young George from his adult counterpart.

Carlos Alayeto portrays Freddie Filmore, the WNCP radio host who also plays roles such as miserly businessman Henry F. Potter and George's aloof uncle Billy who works at the Bedford Falls Building and Loan. As Freddie, Alayeto keeps the audience on their toes during the pre-show warmup, performing with a Mid-Atlantic dialect commonly used in vintage radio. In the role of Mr. Potter, Alayeto maintains a buttoned-up but charismatic aura. While playing Billy, Alayeto utilizes a dopey, cartoonish voice reminiscent of Don Knotts. Some of Alayeto's most memorable moments occur when he switches between Potter and Billy in the same scene.

Marlo Rodriguez plays Sally Applewhite, the actress assuming the role of George's wife Mary. In her performance, Rodriguez gives Mary a sweet innocence that easily rivals Donna Reed in the original film. Her genuine and subtle facial expressions also provide the right amount of realism to a radio play that is stylistically larger than life.

Noah Levine plays Harry "Jazzbo" Heywood, a featured actor with roles such as Clarence the Angel, George's brother Harry and Italian bartender Mr. Martini. In the pivotal role of Clarence, Levine stands with authority, speaking with crisp diction and a resonant baritone. As Harry, Levine creates two distinct voices to differentiate the character as a child and as an adult.

The standout performance of the night came from Caroline Dopson as featured player Lana Sherwood. In her role, she embodies many distinct characters such as George's daughter Zuzu, state examiner Sadie Vance, and angel superintendent Josephine. Throughout the evening, Dopson showcases her storytelling skills, vocal variety, and professionalism. As Josephine, Dopson serves as a narrator, guiding both Clarence and the audience through George's wonderful life without relying on visual cues. In her other roles, Dopson switches like a chameleon from a cute child to an overbearing, middle-aged woman.

As an ensemble, the cast seamlessly transitions from actor to Foley artist, hitting their marks at the pace of a cheetah. Even with only 8-10 rehearsals, the actors appear tight-knit, actively listening and engaging with each other throughout the evening.

The cast is also responsible for singing various ensemble numbers, including two holiday-themed commercial jingles and "Auld Lang Syne." While the actors perform each jingle with gusto, they struggle to sing with balance and blend, whether in unison or harmony. However, by the end of the play, the cast delivers a rousing and vocally sound "Auld Lang Syne," with dynamic contrast and a smooth blend.

Sound and Foley designer Tyler Johnson Grimes is responsible for producing effects that are believable, not distracting, and visually appealing onstage. Some of the various and sundry items used as Foley props include pairs of shoes, wind chimes, train whistles, kazoos, and even a tray of Corn Flakes to mimic the sound of an icy field. Grimes also selects microphones that are both period-appropriate and fitting for the theater's acoustics. The production's pre-recorded music includes a mix of holiday carols, swing, and music from the film's score. This curated underscoring sets the mood for this production without detracting from the performances.

Co-designers Casey Sacco and Arlette Del Toro contribute to Davis' directorial vision for the show's scenery and costumes. Sacco and Del Toro utilize a minimalist scenic design for this production. The stage is festively adorned with a foil Christmas tree, stockings, poinsettias, tinsel and strings of multicolor lights. This design allows the audience to concentrate on the story and performances. An original logo, which reads "WNCP Playhouse of the Air," was beautifully designed and painted on Island City Stage's back wall by scenic painter Kathe O'Donnelly.

Sacco and Del Toro are also responsible for dressing the actors in their 1949 Sunday best. The men wear dapper suits with bowties, while the women wear dresses and blouses with puff sleeves. Some other noticeable appurtenances unique to the time period include Fuentes' leather suspenders and Rodriguez's white pillbox hat. Each actor also wears a mistletoe-shaped accessory that is fitting for the holiday season.

Lighting designer Desiraé Merritt primarily utilizes a full-stage wash to highlight the acting and storytelling in this production. However, Merritt selects several unique light cues that enhance the show's mood during select scenes. Examples of this include a pink wash when George professes his love to Mary and a deep red wash as Mr. Potter plots George's downfall.

Even as the world experiences unique social and economic challenges during the 2022 holiday season, stories like It's A Wonderful Life remind audiences that hope, love and justice can prevail. At a time when mental illness and suicide become more prevalent in the United States, New City Players could not have picked a more appropriate time to bring this play to South Florida. This production is as festive as it is transformative. Like many regional theaters presenting annual productions of A Christmas Carol, I hope New City Players can make It's A Wonderful Life an annual tradition for seasons to come.


New City Players presents

It's A Wonderful Life

A live radio play by Joe Landry

Running until December 18 at Island City Stage

2304 N. Dixie Highway Wilton Manors, FL 33305

For tickets, please visit www.newcityplayers.org

Directed by Timothy Mark Davis

Featuring Marcos Fuentes, Marlo Rodriguez, Carlos Alayeto, Caroline Dopson and Noah Levine

Scenic and Costume Design by Casey Sacco and Arlette Del Toro

Lighting Design by Desiraé Merritt

Sound and Foley Design by Tyler Johnson Grimes



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From This Author - David McKibbin

David McKibbin is ecstatic to share his love of theatre with the world by writing for BroadwayWorld.com. David holds a Bachelor’s degree in Theatre with a Minor in Voice Perf... (read more about this author)


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