Review: IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A LIVE RADIO PLAY at Portland Center Stage

This production runs through December 24.

By: Dec. 09, 2022
Review: IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A LIVE RADIO PLAY at Portland Center Stage
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There's a reason It's a Wonderful Life is one of the top Christmas movies of all time. No matter how many times you see it, it's impossible not to be moved by the story of George Bailey, an adventurer at heart who constantly sacrifices his own desires to help others, finally finding himself standing on a bridge contemplating the ultimate sacrifice.

The live radio play, now running at Portland Center Stage, takes a different approach to the classic story. For you younger folks, a radio play is the old fashioned version of an audio drama podcast. In the live version, you get the behind-the-scenes view, watching as the actors not only voice the characters but provide all of the sound effects as well. The cast also does the commercials, as was common when radio plays were popular, while the audience plays the role of a live studio audience at the broadcast, contributing applause and general crowd noises. It's definitely a gimmick, but a perfectly charming one, especially this time of year.

The cast of six are actors you'll likely recognize from PCS and other theatres around town: Merideth Kaye Clark, Jimmy Garcia, Treasure Lunan, John San Nicolas, Jamie M. Rea, and Ashley Song. Holding audience attention in a relatively long show that doesn't have much action, at least in the beginning (the actors mostly say their lines into microphones), takes both vocal dexterity - the six actors play dozens of roles - as well as a good dose of charisma. While all of the actors possess these qualities, the two who bring it the most are Jamie M. Rea and Jimmy Garcia.

I also very much appreciated the show's design by Peter Ksander (scenic design), Alexz Trent Eccles (lighting design), and Phil Johnson (sound design). I don't want to ruin any surprises, so I'll just say it's not as simple as it first appears.

If you're looking for a feel-good show to get you into the holiday spirit, and especially if you're a fan of the movie it's based on, put IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A LIVE RADIO PLAY on your list. It's sweet, comforting, and not at all demanding. Think of it like the theatrical equivalent of hot cocoa with whipped cream.

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A LIVE RADIO PLAY runs through December 24. More details and tickets here.

Photo credit: Jingzi Zhao/courtesy of Portland Center Stage