WICKEDLOCAL.com – Visitors at the Plymouth Center for the Arts can enjoy the holiday film classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” in a new dimension — as a radio show.
The Americana Theatre Company is presenting “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” on stage for select dates from Dec. 9-17 at the Plymouth Center for the Arts.
The beloved story will be brought to the stage as a live broadcast before a studio audience, as was commonly done in the 1940s. A small ensemble of actors performs the voices of dozens of characters while creating sound effects.
“The audience becomes a character,” said Marianne Savell, who directs the performance. “Many live radio plays, particularly the ones adapted by Joe Landry who adapted this particular version, set it this way. So instead of seeing scenes in different locations played out in front of you, you see actors playing ‘stars’ of the 1940s, playing all the characters in the story. Those layers are fun to play with.”
Savell had the privilege of directing the West Coast premiere of this play in Hollywood, she said, and at the time she wondered if it was really going to work in comparison to how loved the film is.
“To my delight, it works beautifully,” she said. “I discovered that you really need to lean into the emotions and the humor that the film delivers. We don’t try to sound like the original actors, but we do lean into some of their rhythms. Because in those rhythms we find the humor and emotion that we long for.”
Lead character cites ‘behind-the-curtain excitement’ of radio play
Jesse Sullivan is co-artistic director, along with Derek Martin, for Americana Theatre Company, a nonprofit professional theatre company. Sullivan plays the lead character, George Bailey.
“I think there is a wonderful behind-the-curtain excitement with a ‘radio play,’ where the audience gets to experience the play and story itself, along with seeing the actors’ in-between moments as they live life away from the radio microphones,” Sullivan said.
He said he is “so lucky” to play George, which is written as a single actor track, similar to the character of Mary.
“I am always amazed at what my fellow actors are able to pull off playing the myriad of characters they do,” he said. “It truly is a marvel.”
“It’s a Wonderful Life” features company members from throughout the country including David Friday, Nick Hancock and Erin Friday. Returning guest performing artists include Johan Woods and Trina Vargas, the latter in the role of Mary.
Director says ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is among her favorite Christmas films
“It’s a Wonderful Life” is one of Savell’s favorite Christmas films, she said.
“I think what I love most about the film, and the story, is the sophistication and edge,” Savell said. “We think sometimes that movies of that era are not deep or edgy, but they really are in a very sophisticated way because they had to be.”
Almost everyone who comes to see the show brings their own experience with the story, Sullivan said, be it the first time they watched it as a child, or the way the story connects with them and their own families later in life.
“Getting to experience this touch of nostalgia while grounding it in live performance is something magical,” he said. “I’m always surprised at the emotion this piece brings out of the audience, even in this truncated/radio play form. People have such a connection to this story of trial and redemption, and it’s a holiday staple for so many people for a good reason.”
Performances for “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” are at 7 p.m. on Dec. 9-10 and Dec. 12-16, and 2 p.m. matinees on Dec. 16-17.
Tickets are $35 for adults and $30 for students and seniors.
For more information about Americana Theatre Company, or to purchase tickets, visit americanatheatre.org or call 508-591-0282.
By Ruth Thompson