Story by Brian D'Ambrosio
Bedford Falls may be a distant cry from Missoula, but this holiday season Out of the Box Productions, presented by MCT, serves up a nourishing dose of nostalgia with It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play.
An enjoyable rendition of the beloved Frank Capra film, the play's title sets down-to-earth expectations for the 90-minute show. With theatergoers as the in-studio audience, Joe Martinez's adaptation uses five actors, a sounds effects man and recorded music to bring George Bailey, Mr. Potter and the rest of Bedford Falls to life.
Prepare to return to the days when radio served as the principal fund of entertainment, and programs such as Amos 'n' Andy, Dragnet and The Shadow, stirred imaginations.
The stage is set as an old-time radio broadcast with an ensemble that delivers over two dozen characters to the stage. Replete with period commercials, characters step up to microphones with script in hand to speak their parts. Formless voices permit listeners to fully craft a visual complement.
"This show offers the magic of watching It's a Wonderful Life from a completely different perspective," says director Joe Martinez. "It's about the audience being able to use their imagination, close their eyes, listen, and enjoy. It's really on the actors to supply a performance where the audience gets lost in a fun time and experience."
The little things matter, that's the message of It's a Wonderful Life. The little things that happen to Bailey simultaneously agitate and amuse him, as they waylay his plans for a career, a dream, some form of happiness other than what he has.
On Christmas Eve George tries to commit suicide. In an unexpected twist, he is saved by an angel-in-training from heaven, an angel who still needs his wings confirmed. The angel shows George how much good his little deeds have done by showing him what would have happened to his hometown had he not lived.
"This radio play gives us a chance to do something different," says Martinez. "Mr. Potter won't sound like the Mr. Potter in the movie. The actor playing Mr. Potter comes up with six or seven vocals for the characters he plays."
"Within the production of the show," says Karen McNenny, who plays Mary Hatch, George Bailey's wife. "we also have multiple worlds being portrayed. This is where we get to share the secrets of how a radio show is produced... sound effects, one actor playing multiple characters and the nuances between the actors...the nature of this show gives us yet another layer when we all get to see what the world would be like if George Bailey had never been born. "
It's a Wonderful Life is unabashed sentimentality, the perfect fix of yuletide and seasonal nostalgia, featuring a solid cast of names associated with the MCT stage, including Malcolm Lowe, who played the role of George Bailey in the Missoula Community Theatre's presentation of It's a Wonderful Life a few years back and Karen McNenny, a former Miss Montana and assistant choreographer of MCT's 2012 production of West Side Story. The cast is rounded out with seasoned veterans Victoria Larson, Simon Fickinger, Paul Ronaldo and Vern Salcido (sound effects).
Ultimately, expect It's a Wonderful Life and its many little things to come together to offer up one great night of 1940's live radio.
Tickets are on sale now for It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. All tickets are $10; show times 7:30 p.m. It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play will be performed Friday, Dec 14 and Saturday, December 15 at the Downtown Dance Collective and Friday, December 21, and Saturday, December 22 at the Crystal Theatre. Tickets based on availability; may be purchased at door or through the MCT Box Office: (406) 728-7529.
Photo: Malcolm Lowe plays the role of George Bailey in MCT's presentation of It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. Karen McNenny performs the part of Mary Hatch. With theatergoers as the in-studio audience, Joe Martinez's adaptation uses five actors, a sounds effects man and recorded music to bring George Bailey, Mr. Potter and the rest of Bedford Falls to life.