It’s a swift but ‘Wonderful Life’
Written by: David Burke – Quad City Times
The 1946 holiday film classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” is two hours and 10 minutes long. Add the commercials and various bits of filler when it airs on network TV and it clocks in at three hours even.
But the Clinton Area Showboat Theatre’s “It’s a Wonderful Life: The Live Radio Play,” onstage through Dec. 12, tells the same story in less than an hour’s time, yet it still feels complete.
Those who have a far better grasp of the Jimmy Stewart-Donna Reed film than I do – I may have seen the entire movie in bits and pieces through the years, maybe – might find fault with the speedy performance, but it played out like a tasty holiday bonbon.
True to its “live radio show” vibe, it’s set in a fictional radio studio in New York City during the mid-1940s. Actors in period clothing enter one by one, acknowledge each other, pick up their scripts and get a countdown to the show’s start.
Director Patrick Stinson, besides designing the set and lighting, also voices George Bailey, thankfully not slipping into a Stewart stammer. As with the other times he’s been onstage – even though the visual technically shouldn’t matter in this case – he brings a certain charm with him.
Rachel Bousselot is solid in the role of Mary, and Jay Benett does yeoman’s work in tackling Mr. Gower, Uncle Billy and Sam Wainwright, each with their own distinctive voice. The rest of the 40-member cast is mostly a children’s choir, ably handling some holiday classics.
Several other actors take on numerous parts, and a few of them give some amusing readings to their lines.
Music director Doug Kutzli also handles some of the more difficult voices, as well as a table full of sound effects, truly the most visual part of the night.
It’s to the Showboat’s benefit that this is staged as a “radio play.” The construction on a set was minimal and, with the exception of one dramatic lighting cue to signify the end of the “life without George” flashbacks, the lights are as well. It’s a low-budget show that likely will draw big crowds without looking as though it’s scaled back.
And it could set a precedent for future holiday “radio plays” at the boat. How about “A Christmas Carol”? Or “Miracle on 34th Street”? Or even “A Christmas Story,” despite the fact that’s already been a recent Showboat offering?