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BWW Interview: Lily McGill, Joshua McClymont, Natalie Overall of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A RADIO PLAY at Theatre Baton Rouge

Now playing at Theatre Baton Rouge

BWW Interview: Lily McGill, Joshua McClymont, Natalie Overall of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A RADIO PLAY at Theatre Baton Rouge
Natalie Overall, Joshua McClymont, Will Cole, Varland Owens, and Tony Medlin.

Tis the season for holiday classics, and what could be better (and much needed) than a live production of one of the most beloved holiday stories of all time? IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A LIVE RADIO PLAY is the latest production brought to you by Theatre Baton Rouge as part of their 75th season.

This beloved American holiday classic comes to captivating life as a live 1940s radio broadcast. With the help of a 5-actor ensemble bringing a few dozen characters to the stage, the story of idealistic George Bailey unfolds as he considers ending his life one fateful Christmas Eve. Written by Joe Landry, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A LIVE RADIO PLAY is a touching, uplifting, and upbeat 90-minute production.

BroadwayWorld.com sat down with show director Lily McGill and actors Joshua McClymont and Natalie Overall to talk about the production, how it differs from the film, and why productions such as this are needed during this time in the world.

BroadwayWorld.com: What drew you to be involved in the production?

McGill: I haven't been able to do a lot of live theatre since the pandemic started, so I was excited for the chance to direct something. This was also a new story for me, shockingly, so I was excited to work on something completely new. I hadn't seen the movie or live production of this story before.

BWW: What are your thoughts on George Bailey's story?

McGill: At first, I didn't get it. I watched the movie and thought George was so severe and aggressive. As I read the script and started working on the play, I understood his point of view more and more. Although we don't all show it in the same way that George does, a lot of adults get "beat down" by life and start to feel trapped. There is also a lot of pressure to present a certain image and feel cheerful during the holidays, and I think a lot of adults can understand how hard that can be.

BWW: It's A Wonderful Life is viewed as a celebration of the human spirit during hardship. Would you agree that the community needs a show like this?

McGill: Absolutely. We are living in a very divisive time, and I think these characters model a very selfless worldview. Most of the characters don't have a lot to give, but they are willing to share whatever they have with others. I think George also comes to appreciate a lot of things he takes for granted, and that is something that we all need to do once in a while.

BWW: How has the script transformed the story from film to screen?

McGill: This version is a bit different. One of the most noticeable differences is there are only five actors, so they are playing multiple characters. This version is also 90 minutes, so George's life is condensed a bit more. I enjoy how quickly it moves--it's almost like his life is flashing before our eyes.

BWW: How did you approach directing the show?

McGill: When I looked into live radio plays, I thought they were charming. However, I wasn't entirely sure that an audience in 2020 would stay engaged if we had the five actors parked in front of mics the entire time. So, I tried to bring it to life a little more. My goal was to create a hybrid show that uses the radio broadcast to establish the story while allowing the audience to get involved in George's world more fully.

BWW: What can you tell me about the production's staging? Will you incorporate elements to associate that it's a radio play?

McGill: The show keeps moving and changing constantly. We have used a few furniture pieces and many props to create different settings, from Gower's Drug Store to a taxicab. We also have a fantastic sound designer, Jeremiah Turner, who has created soundscapes for some of the environments. That adds to the specificity of each moment. We do have some elements throughout that establish the radio broadcast. Some of my favorite moments are the live advertisements--the actors are in front of the mics singing jingles for the show sponsors.

BWW: Joshua, what's it's like to be in George Bailey's shoes?

McClymont: In many ways, the character and story of George Bailey are very much like a pair of shoes-not the chic, new vogue type you keep in the box, but the familiar, broken-in pair kept in the back of the closet. The great vicissitudes of George's life resonate deeply with many (including myself), and I'm humbled to make this character come alive.

BWW: Natalie, which roles do you play? Do you have any favorites?

Overall: I play Mary Bailey at different stages in her life. I love playing little Mary, even though it's a brief scene, because you see the beginning of her admiration and love for George Bailey, but, in stark contrast, it is also fun playing Mary in the alternate reality where there is no George Bailey because the audience has a chance to see how different life can be without love.

BWW: What drew you to audition for the show?

McClymont: I've always been drawn to the film and have produced this same show on a couple of occasions. So, when I heard Theatre Baton Rouge was holding auditions, I jumped at the chance.

Overall: The movie has always been a favorite of mine, but also, I just missed being at the theatre. My daughter and I were supposed to have performed in Matilda together last summer, so I jumped at the chance of being back on stage and with familiar friends and new faces again.

BWW: Do you think the community needs a show like this right now?

McClymont: Communities need theatre, especially right now! As we are being drawn further and further apart, we need to be reminded of the universal themes which draw us together. While some may consider IAWL as being dated, there is a reason why it is the iconic, go-to holiday movie for millions of families.

Overall: More than ever, people need this show and the message that, no matter how tough life gets, every life has meaning and worth. Theatre has always been cathartic, a place where you can step away from your daily demands and purge your emotions in a safe space. There is something so special about live performances that film can never quite catch: that energy shared between performer and spectator is a communal connection that we all need right now.

BWW: What are you taking away from this experience?

McClymont: No matter how many times an actor works on a specific piece, each experience carries with it unique and indelible impressions. From this production, I will take the memories of the precious individuals I had the opportunity to work with.

Overall: Every moment of this process has been a joy! I loved working with Lily McGill and her team (Matt Miyagi and Brandon Guillory) and having such a supportive and encouraging production team who always made our small ensemble feel safe and gave us room to explore lots of possibilities. The collaboration and creativity in the room every night of rehearsal was truly uplifting and brought back my Christmas spirit.

BWW: Anything else you'd like to add?

Overall: It's important that people know that seeing this production is something different than just watching the classic movie at home. My fellow actors do a superb job of creating multiple characters, making the audience laugh, and pulling at their heartstrings. Don't wait to buy tickets! You don't want to miss this special show!

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE runs now through December 20th. Get your tickets by visiting theatrebr.org.

As a note, seating is limited to 40 patrons per performance to allow for social distancing. TBR will be taking extreme safety precautions as audiences are allowed back into the theatre, including temperature checks, mandatory masks for patrons at all times, socially distanced seating (40 seats/327 will be sold per performance), COVID-19 bar protocol as well as bathroom protocol, and deep cleanings between every performance with medical-grade cleaning products, HEPA filters, and UV lights and wands.



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From This Author Tara Bennett