Monday, December 12, 2016

CT Theater Review: It's a Wonderful Life Radio Play -- Music Theatre of CT

Courtesy of MTC
It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play
By Joe Landry
Directed by Kevin Connors
Music Theatre of Connecticut
Through Dec. 18

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?

It's the best Christmas gift you can give yourself this year. A delightful adaptation by MTC's own Marketing Director Joe Landry of the famous film Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra and Jo Swerling starring Donna Reed and Jimmy Stewart. This year marks the 20th anniversary of this play which features radio actor characters portraying the characters of Beford Falls as part of a "live" radio broadcast on Christmas Eve 1946 on WBFR Manhattan.

George Bailey (Jon-Michael Miller, the only cast member who plays just one character)) always wanted to explore the world and get out of Bedford Falls, but every time he almost made it, something brought him back to run the building and loan business begun by his father and Uncle Billy. The towns people have come to depend on the generosity of the kindhearted Baileys to stay out of the grips of evil Henry Potter (Allan Zeller) who wants to own everything and everyone in town. So George settles down and has a bunch of kids with sweetheart Mary Hatch (Elizabeth Donnelly) and helps friends like Violet Bick (an amusing Elisa DeMaria) stay out of trouble. One day, however, it's George who is in trouble when a deposit is lost and bank creditors threaten to take over the building and loan. George considers taking his own life when he realizes he is worth more to his family dead than alive, but his desperate prayers are heard and bumbling angel Clarence (Jim Schilling) arrives on the scene to help George and by doing so, to earn his long-awaited wings.

What Are the Highlights?
This story is a holiday favorite and all the sweetness, good feelings and goosebumps are here with the slightly different twist of presenting the radio broadcast. There's something very satisfying about the play not trying to reproduce the movie -- how can you duplicate Donna Reed and Jimmy Stewart any way -- but capturing the spirit in its own charming way.

Kevin Connors deftly directs the action which includes the creation of sound effects. Cast members creating the sounds of a murmuring crowd are quite entertaining. Zeller plays both Uncle Billy and Mr. Potter at the same time, maintaining the distinct characters with just the addition of a pair of eye glasses. 

DeMaria is a hoot as the cheesy Violet, then becomes wide-eyed, innocent ZuZu.

What are the Lowlights?
None. The movie is an annual tradition in our house every holiday, but this was a special treat. Sit back and enjoy.

More Information:
It's a Wonderful Life runs at Music Theatre of Connecticut, 509 Westport Avenue (behind Nine West) in Norwalk through Dec. 18. Performances are Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 and 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets are $30-$55:; 203-454-3883.

Additional credits: Music by Kevin Connors; Costume Design by Diane Vanderkroef; Set Design by Jordan Janota; Lighting Design by Michael Blagys.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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