BWW Reviews: IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A LIVE RADIO PLAY Brings Christmas Nostalgia to Chapel Hill

By: Dec. 03, 2012
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It's a Wonderful Life has been part of many families' Christmas traditions for decades, and now there's a new way to experience the story.  PlayMakers Repertory Company in Chapel Hill is offering playwright Joe Landry's interesting take on a live production of the show with It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play.

It's  a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play follows five radio actors as they broadcast a radio performance of, of course, It's  a Wonderful Life.  The actors slowly fade (as they literally throw away the pages of their scripts), and the beloved film characters become more and more real.  The story is aligned quite closely with the plot of the film, and centers around George Bailey, who is at the brink of suicide.  A guardian angel named Clarence has been assigned to save George.  Act One tells George's life, highlighting key moments in his upbringing and adulthood, moments who made him the man he is.  In Act Two, Clarence actually visits George, and shows him what the world would be like had he never been born.

The radio studio set, designed by McKay Coble, is simply beautiful, and keeps the audience grounded in the reality that these are radio actors while all the while being swept up in the story being told.   In true PlayMakers fashion, the set is one of the stars of the show.  The other technical elements were spot-on as well, the most interesting and notable being the Foley sound.  The Foley artist was the key element in providing a true radio feel to the show.  The sound effects are all created right on stage, in the world of the soundstage.  The Foley design would be a particularly interesting element for children in the audience who are being introduced to the idea of a radio play for the first time.

The cast is a great ensemble, and the joy they feel onstage emanates into the audience.  Particularly captivating was Brandon Garegnani as Clarence, the loveable angel who is trying so very hard for a promotion.  Taking this iconic role and making it his own, Garegnani definitely earned those wings.  Great range, both dramatic and comedic, is demanded of each cast member.  Each plays multiple roles (it is radio, after all), and they manage to create a whole town with just five actors.

The show is definitely family friendly, but will probably not captivate the very youngest among us.  Children age eight and up will likely enjoy the story and have fun learning about the world of radio.  It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play runs through December 16.  For tickets and more information, visit

Photo credit: Jon Gardiner.


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