In Play Reviews

Long before television, when we all walked three miles to school and back uphill in a snowstorm, there was radio drama. Families gathered around their radios as early as the 1920s to listin to stories, sit-coms, fantasies, and soap operas, all recorded live before an audience. Actors performed not only their roles, but all the appropriate sound effects. And commercials.

Meredith Kaye Clark, Jimmy Garcia, and John San Nicolas in It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. Jingzi Zhao photo.

Modern audiences can enjoy that experience at Portland Center Stage this holiday season as it brings to life that classic seasonal favorite, It’s A Wonderful Life, in the same format used pre-television. It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play offers the radio experience in onstage format, complete with sound effects. And commercials!

Adapted by Joe Landry from the 1946 film starring Jimmy Stewart, and directed by Chip Miller, this show is based on the story The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern. It follows the life of George Bailey, who as a teenager dreams of leaving Bedford Falls, NY to attend college, travel the world, build tall buildings, and make a future for himself somewhere else.

Anyone familiar with the film or play knows this never happens. Instead, after the sudden death of his father, George (John San Nicolas) takes over the struggling family business, marries a local girl, Mary (Ashley Song), and battles his father’s nemesis and local slumlord Potter (Jimmy Garcia). He suffers disappointment after disappointment, and yet George never stops doing the best he can for his family and the people in his community–until he finally reaches his breaking point.

John San Nicolas. Jingzi Zhao photo.

Such are his tests that Clarence Oddbody (Treasure Lunan), an angel striving to earn their wings, is sent to look after him. Clarence is there throughout the Battle of Bedford, and when it reaches its climax! Other featured actors are Merideth Kaye Clark and Jamie M. Rea. All the actors except San Nicolas assume several roles and contribute to making the unique old-timey radio sound effects.

This fun and heart-warming story, with its focus on giving, self sacrifice, and a visitor from another realm, has been a seasonal favorite since its inception. The fun radio play format breathes new life into an already worthy member of the holiday canon. Chip Miller and six talented performers deliver a fine production.

It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play is a production of “KPCS”. The station’s creative crew includes Peter Ksander, scenic designer; Wanda Walden, costume designer; Alexz Trent Eccles, lighting designer; Phil Johnson, sound designer; Isaac Lamb, associate director; Matt Rowning, associate sound designer and composer; Janine Vanderhoff, stage manager; and, Dana Petersen, assistant stage manager.

John San Nicolas and Treasure Lunan. Jingzi Zhao photo.

The play runs through December 24 at Portland Center Stage at the Armory. Tickets are available here.

Recommended Posts

Start typing and press Enter to search