A Holiday Treat for the Nostalgic at Heart

Melissa Domingos

Staff Writer

Attention to all It’s a Wonderful Life fans: this production is nothing but a holiday treat for all of you. Make room for a wave of nostalgia as you reminisce over this Christmas classic.

Sit back, relax and allow yourself to be transported to 1946 in a production that is entirely based on the story and its characters in an old-fashioned medium of entertainment that has been long forgotten -- the radio play.

Adapted from the 1946 Academy Award-nominated film by Frank Capra, Joe Landry’s It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play is set in Manhattan’s WBFR radio station.

The actors assemble themselves among microphones and props to present to the live studio audience the inspirational tale of Clarence, Angel Second Class  (David Bradshawe) who aims to earn his wings by preventing George Bailey’s (Vince Deiulis) suicide on Christmas Eve.

Walking into a busy night at the LOT and hearing Christmas music by Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra immediately places you into 1946, making this intimate black box theatre even more inviting and warm.

I had some hesitations about this production, as many do when a beloved film is altered into another medium. However, Landry’s adaptation and his choice of medium are so fitting that nothing is taken away from the original film.  

Landry’s script presents a play within a play, with the LOT actors playing actors, as well as a variety of characters in the story. One could get lost, but suspend your disbelief, maybe even close your eyes and allow the voices and sounds to come to life.

Seanna Kennedy’s direction gives an almost backstage glance at the creation of radio shows, as the actors themselves are producing the sounds for the live broadcast. The staging is simple and stagnant, but is never limiting in its attempt to inspire audience members to use their imagination with scenes like George jumping into the water to save Clarence, or Mary (Hannah Gallant) and George throwing rocks into the old house.

I didn’t think that the LOT could feel any more intimate until Michael Galloro’s alleyway set design. With such a simple set consisting of a piano, chairs and microphones, as well as two tables filled with Jackie McClelland’s props, we are undoubtedly left to complete the story in our imagination – the wonderful thrill of radio plays.

What makes this experience more rewarding is the audiences’ close proximity to the set and other audience members as they face each other throughout the evening. The audience not only observes the actors, but also other audience members’ reactions to every moment in the story.

Erin Gerofsky’s costume design emulates ’40s fashion in all its sweet retro glory while also giving each actor a personal style with black-rimmed glasses, a dapper suit and a feathered hat. Mikael Kangas’ lighting design mimics that vintage misty golden hue of the 1940s with the best part being the “Applause” sign that lights up to encourage audience participation.

What allows this production to keep the Christmas spirit alive are the five actors whose voice work brings you into another world. Thomas James Finn delivers again, after a fantastic run in LOT’s Buddy, playing in a variety of roles. There is nothing more fascinating than watching him in a scene with himself playing both Uncle Billy and Mr. Potter, proving he can do almost anything.

David Bradshawe’s portrayal of Clarence is the most memorable, as his humour and humility carries through to an iconic character.

And while Vince Deiulis is no Jimmy Stewart (I mean, who really is?), he does, in fact, execute  a pretty fantastic impression of him as an older, tormented and frustrated George Bailey. Playing such a beloved character, Deiulis holds his own while also using Stewart’s voice, allowing the audience to reminisce as they recall the film in their head. The entire ensemble, which also includes Hannah Gallant and Rafaela Lewis, is made up of the perfect number of actors who successfully drive the story and deliver memorable performances.  

It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play is running at Lower Ossington Theatre (100A Ossington Avenue), until Dec. 24. For more information visit: http://lowerossingtontheatre.com/