MOVE OVER MR. SCROOGE “IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE”: A LIVE RADIO PLAY, BECOMES THE NEW CLASSIC HOLIDAY TREAT
Hayward CA may be a far cry from Bedford Falls, but this holiday season Douglas Morrisson Theatre charms us with a healthy dose of nostalgia with Joe Laundry’s adaption of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE as an old fashioned radio play. Now on stage at DMT only through December 11th. A delightful rendition of the beloved Frank Capra film, the play's title sets realistic expectations for the 2 hour live radio show. Director Kendall Tieck says “When approached to direct this production, I wondered, how can this classic film possibly translate to the stage, let alone as a live broadcast radio play? Simply put: The Story.”
The Douglas Morrisson Theatre’s 37th season continues with this classic story of George Bailey that we have come to consider an icon of the holiday season. The American holiday classic performed as a live 1940s radio broadcast, adapted by Joe Landry from the screenplay by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra, and Jo Swerling. Landry's 1997 adaptation is true to its text of "A Live Radio Play." The DMT stage has become the WBFR radio studio in 1946 Manhattan, we're the studio audience, and a company talent voice over actors play all the movie's principals and townspeople. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE could dethrone "A Christmas Carol" from the top of the seasonal holiday stage plays.
Joe Landry, explains why he chose radio to frame his version:“…the audience experiences the story in a way they never have before. The radio adaptation doesn’t attempt to put the film on stage, but rather puts it in the minds of the audience as they listen to the story unfold and connect the visual dots in their head.” This clever production is directed by Kendall Tieck and second to the direction of this performance is masterful sound design by his brother, Donald Tieck, who created the original music and sound effects that brings this radio play to life. Both Kendall and Don are accomplished at capturing the authentic mood of an old radio broadcast with a company of actors to recreate Bedford Falls. Liliana Dugue Pineiro’s set design takes us to WBFR radio studios as she also gives us a nice rendition of Bedford Falls with a miniature village set up around the holiday tree and background of the radio studio.
This art deco radio studio with theater-goers in-studio audience uses 12 actors, a sounds effects team of three to bring George Bailey, Mr. Potter and the rest of Bedford Falls to life. When radio served as the primary source of entertainment, programs such as Amos 'n' Andy, Dragnet and The Shadow, were the cornerstone for imagination. Hearing actors’ voices act out new stories and adventures allowed listeners to craft a visual counterpart. This radio play encourages the audience to envision Mr. Potter and James Stewart's exasperated stress of the icon George Bailey.
The famous film is based on a 1943 short story entitled “The Greatest Gift,” written by Philip Van Doren Stern. This fantasy short story, which the writer said had come to him in a dream, involved a mysterious stranger who appears to a suicidal man as he prepares to throw himself off a bridge on Christmas Eve. When the man expresses his wish that he had never been born, the stranger proceeds to show him just what his town would be like if he really had never existed.
The cast features the best of the Bay Area including Tim Beagley, as our host and announcer, the charming Judy Beall, Kenneth Blair as Clarence, Chad Foster, Travis Himebaugh, Alicia von Kugelgen, , Andrea Lea Martzipan as Mary, Michael Sally, Eve Tieck, Dan Wilson, Kip Wixson, and the superb Danny Martin as George Bailey. The live “WBFR Foley Philharmonic” features an impressive sound design by Donald Tieck, and his team Eve Tieck and Joanne Romeo.
All the actors play many voices including the skillful Travis Himebaugh who plays nine voices. As impressive as his aural accuracy is the speed with which Himebaugh slips from one character to another, one moment Bert, the next Harry Bailey, the next Sam Wainwright is amazing. Also playing an assortment of characters, Judy Beall is child Sadie one moment, George Bailey's mother the next. At certain moments the breakneck changes seem impossible, but like the underbelly of a magician's trunk these actors show us their exceptional acting skills. For a moment I closed my eyes to imagine listening to this on a radio, and it totally works. After all, this play's conceit is that the show's actual audience is on the other end of a radio frequency.
Director Tieck inserts an intentional misstep or improv among the actors that keeps the energy high on stage. The flawless Foley man Don Tieck has also created original music and the cast are a knock for the commercial breaks live promo’s These glimpses of radio station life are too few. Other productions of It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, hint at further back stories between the radio actors, perhaps rivalries or a romance between real life Mary and George Bailey. The Tieck brothers keep this production simple and family friendly and of course the studio audience gets in the mood and hisses and boos at Mr Potters take down of George Bailey. The craft for this production is spot on, costume designer Daisy Neske-Dickerson’s period wear is authentic and the hair and wigs are perfect. George and the company men are dapper and the angel Clarence and Chad Foster as the voice of God are dressed in formal enchanted wear. Martzipan also acted at the vocal coach making sure each voice has its own distinct sound. Scenic artist Miki Rodriguez added an historic look to the model bridge and small town miniatures featured on stage.
Pineiro’s stage design includes the space for the sound effects team and a beautiful full size holiday tree highlighted by Allen Willner’s lighting design. The WBFR logo banner is back lit to not overpower the set, Willner has cute subtle lighting in the Bedford Falls village that lines the backdrop of the set. Master prop designer, Tom Earlywine, has the tree beautifully decorated, the actors don’t hold or carry props, but the effects team is over loaded with a table of magic items that create the magic of Bedford Falls.
This is a well-polished candy dish of a crowd-pleaser. Andrea Lea Martzipan sparkles as Mary Bailey, she delivers her Midwestern kindness and love with a charm. Local favorite Michael Sally as Billy Bailey, the character that loses that money that sets the story of the angel, is well played by Sally who also voices Mr. Welch.
The script does no disservice to the heartwarming story of the original film. Christmas is a time of tradition, and the one holiday tradition we can’t do without, is a visit to Bedford Falls. “It’s a Wonderful Life” is as important to our celebration as gifts under the tree, don’t missed this polished production, it closes Dec 11. DMT holiday concert is Dec 15 and the World Premiere of “Charley's Aunt 66” is February 9th.
Douglas Morrisson Theatre SEASON 2016-2017
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A LIVE RADIO PLAY
Adapted by Joe Landry from the screenplay by Frances Goodrich,
Albert Hackett, Frank Capra, and Jo Swerling
Directed by Kendall Tieck,
Sound design and music by Don Tieck
Only Through December 11, 2016
Douglas Morrisson Theatre,
22311 N. Third St. in Hayward, CA
Two hours with one intermission
Tickets are $15-$29, and are available through the Box Office at (510) 881-6777 online at www.dmtonline.org.
Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/morrissontheatre/?fref=ts
Photos by Terry Sullivan