It’s A Wonderful Life is so much a part of the holiday landscape that it’s hard to imagine the season without it. And Center Stage has made sure we don’t have to. Their take on the classic movie tells the story as a radio play, rather than a traditionally staged play. It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, is set in Baltimore radio station WBAL circa 1946 and allows the audience to see the behind-the-scenes work of a live radio broadcast.
Once underway, the actors become denizens of the town of Bedford Falls. George and Mary Baily, Mr. Potter, Harry Baily, and the angel Clarence are all there. With a script by Joe Landry that stays true to the original, the action on stage is told mostly through the familiar dialogue with the necessary sound effects supplied by a character in the radio station, rather than from an offstage source. Foley work, as the art of sound effects is known in films, is a crucial element of the production. This is no mere script reading of a play for a radio audience. It is written as a fully realized depiction of an actual radio production during a time before television.
Director Nelson T. Eusebio, III knew he wanted artists who could deliver more than just parodies of the movie roles. Some would be playing multiple roles so it was vitally important to get the casting just right. In the first rehearsal, Eusebio reminded the cast and crew that this is a “story that celebrates our humanity—individually and collectively.” He wanted the cast to display an access to that humanity with an approach that was unvarnished and not overly sentimental.
It isn’t possible to separate the Frank Capra movie from other incarnations. In a previous interview, Nelson said, “The movie lives in three places—in the film itself, it lives in our audience’s memory of the film and it also lives in the live event we’re creating here. The key is not to imitate the film, but to take the heart of it, so it triggers the audience’s memory, it invokes it, and finally it allows us to inspire from that.”
Eusebio has a history with the play that goes back several years. He directed a regional theatre production of it in North Carolina. With an undergraduate degree in Theater from UC-Irvine and a Masters in Drama from Yale, he has the skills to bring his take on Landry’s script to life. And he has a personal connection to Center Stage Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah. Kwame served as his mentor in a bid for a grant (they didn’t get it) but a bond was formed.
Kwei-Armah is delighted to have It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play on the bill this season. “The show fits nicely into our iconic season this year – from Mozart to Marley.” One of the premier regional theatres in the country, Center Stage has a well-deserved reputation for delivering exceptional theatre. Under Kwei-Armah’s direction, they consistently present thoughtful and appealing entertainment. This year is certainly shaping up to keep proving the point. Happy Holidays!
It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play
Thru Dec. 21 • $19-59
700 N. Calvert St.
Gay Life December 2014