"It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play" is a novel and entirely entertaining way to look at the classic film that's become a holiday tradition.
Listening to a story read aloud is fun. Listening to a storyteller is better, because the performer embodies the story he's delivering. A quintet of lively raconteurs at Cyrano's Theatre Company perform the story as 1940s radio stars presenting a Christmas Eve broadcast.
Full disclosure: Not a fan of the film. I've seen "It's A Wonderful Life" once and don't care if I ever see it again. Yet the Cyrano's crew pulled me in immediately, so those who love the film will no doubt adore this live version.
The viewers become the studio audience, cued by a flashing "Applause" sign to show the folks at home how much fun they should be having. The spiffily dressed actors perform five main characters and more than a dozen extras, switching from role to role with admirable poise.
Radio being a purely aural medium, a distinctive voice is as important as the actor's delivery. Director Elizabeth Ware encourages her artists to create memorable voices: the come-hitherish Violet Bicks (Katie Strock), the greedy Mr. Potter (Mark Robokoff), the saintly yet spirited Mary Hatch (Sarah Bethany Baird) and a host of townspeople ranging from a voluble cabbie to a cranky bank customer.
Since each actor plays multiple roles, it's vital to be able to determine who is who. That's never a problem during this production.
The two main roles have the most distinctive voices. As the suicidal George Bailey, Jamie Nelson channels just enough of Jimmy Stewart to be an homage rather than an imitation. He portrays that old-fashioned virtue, honor, as though it never went out of style. When Nelson urges his friends to stick together through the hard times you buy it, utterly.
Clarence the angel (Eric Cover) had the oddest voice of all: part whine, part mumble and initially a little annoying.
But it grows on you and it makes perfect sense, given that Clarence has been waiting 200 years for his wings.
A no-confidence, diffident guy wouldn't exactly sound stentorian.
It's also fun to watch the actors do sound effects like thunder (a sheet of tin), face-slaps (a smartly snapped belt) and a tipsy uncle falling down the stairs (a trash can and lid clanged together).
Kudos to costumer Lynn Murphy for the snappy 1940s garb. People just looked sharper back then.