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BWW Review: MAS Community Theater's IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE Radio Play at Carrollwood Cultural Center

It's A Wonderful Life (Radio Style-Theatre) is beautiful holiday production to add some normalcy to this tumultuous year.

BWW Review: MAS Community Theater's IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE Radio Play  at Carrollwood Cultural Center

On Friday night, armed with a cup of vegan eggnog and a comfy pillow, I sat back to enjoy my favorite holiday production from the safety of my laptop. Expertly directed by Aaron Washington, MAS Community Theatre's staged radio play, an adaption of It's a Wonderful Life, the trials and tribulations of George Bailey came wonderfully to life in front of me, live from Carrollwood Cultural Center.

The only reminder that the show was performed during the pandemic was the beautifully designed radio station set with most actors masked between performances and all sanitizing the microphones upon leaving. But it's such a normal part of wardrobe these days; it didn't take away from the production in any way. In fact, it added to it: I was happy to see masks and social distancing integrated into the show, knowing the actors were safe.

If you don't know the story, in the simplest of terms, this was a what-if story. What if the main character, George Bailey, never existed? What would his beautiful hometown of Bedford Falls look like without his loving influence? Would the people in his life be the same without him? Clarence, a bumbling angel in need of his wings, granted him a view of Bedford Falls had he never been born.

BWW Review: MAS Community Theater's IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE Radio Play  at Carrollwood Cultural CenterWhile watching from the audience or computer screen, we became those radio listeners. The actors, scripts in hand, performed the way they would during the Golden Age of radio. Live music conducted by pianist Mary Jo Hahn, and sound effects skillfully created by Devan Bittinger, Jessica Duncan, and Samantha Shorey complimented the production. It was so much fun to get a peek behind the curtain to see how each sound was made. I'm so glad the videographer included a view of the foley artists at work in the live stream. The "word from our sponsors" took on a more personal meaning with all commercials sung by the gorgeous voices of the Call Letter Girls Kaileen Barreto, Erin Ruska, and Jessica Schoenfeld about Carrollwood Cultural Center.

Excluding Paul Berg as George Bailey, the small cast, just like in classic radio, took on multiple roles. Lisa Prieto played Mary/ Hortense; Jessica Jax was Violet / Ruth/ Zuzu/ Mrs. Davis/ Sam Wainwright; Bob Sheehan played Joe/ Marty/ Charlie/ Sheriff; Bill Rolon played Mr. Potter/ Joseph/ Tom/ Ernie; Leanne Ferguson played Mrs. Bailey/ Tilly/ Mrs. Hatch/ Helen/ Mrs. Thompson; Ernie Rowland played Clarence/ Mr. Bailey/ Chairman/ Mr. Partridge; Bob Stemm played The Boss/ Gower/ Uncle Billy/ Martini/ Reporter; Alan Williams played Harry/ Bert/ Freddy/ Carter/ Nick; Jayden Vega played Young Harry/ Mickey; Andi Novell played Young Violet / Tommy; Mia Bella played Young Mary / Janie, and Oscar Brown played Young George / Peter.

I was thoroughly impressed with the distinct differences in the voice work of the actors playing multiple characters. I know I can't just say all of them when asked what my favorite scenes are, but here are the callouts: Young Violet's flirting with Young George in a soda shop, young George's and Pharmacist Gower's conversation about poisoned pills, young adult George and Mary's interaction when he rallied against being completely in love with her, and any scene with the town curmudgeon, Mr. Potter.

But just like the movie, my favorite character was Ernie Rowland's portrayal of the angel, Clarence. His lilt and the kind, gentle tone of his voice transported me back into the 1947 film production. I can actually picture him reading "Twas the Night Before Christmas" before a cross-legged group of captivated children.

This beautiful holiday production was exactly what was needed to add some normalcy to this tumultuous year. Thanks to the talents of a superb cast and crew, this was an appreciated break from social isolation and a tug of the heartstrings, even through my laptop screen. Indeed, they proved theatre, whether in person or live stream, is so vitally important and helps make a wonderful life.


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