EDITOR’S NOTE: This preview is based on a Cary Players news release. — R.W.M.
Everybody loves the classic 1946 film It’s A Wonderful Life. And the Cary Players have presented stage adaptations of It’s A Wonderful Life in the past, using a large cast of adult and child performers. For their Christmas show this time around, the Cary Players have chosen a new and unique adaptation by Joe Landry called It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. What makes it unique is that Landry’s version calls for only five actors to play all the roles: George, Mary, Clarence the Angel, Mr. Potter — and just about every resident of Bedford Falls.
The story takes place in a swanky Manhattan radio station. Actors in 1940’s cocktail-hour attire step up to the microphone to perform the lines, reading from a script. They perform multiple roles by changing their voice, their facial expression, and their poses — often at lightning speed.
“When Cary Players asked me if I would like to direct this show I was thrilled!” said Nancy Rich, the show’s director. “I adore the film, and Landry’s script includes all the key moments that we all adore, like ‘Buffalo Gals’ and ‘Zuzu’s petals.’ But Landry’s script is not-your-same-old Wonderful Life. It’s a fresh approach that taps into our imagination.
“Imagine Mr. Potter and Peter Bailey having a heated conversation — then imagine the scene played by a single actor arguing with himself,” said Rich. “Even though it’s called a radio play, I want the audience to know that this will be a different experience from listening to a radio show or a podcast. It’s exciting to watch. And, I know the audience will especially get a kick out of watching our Foley Artist work his magic.”
“Foley” is the art of creating sound effects for radio, film, and television. Jack Donovan Foley came to fame in the 1930s for designing sound for live radio broadcasts, using everyday items to make the effects. For example, the Foley Artist in the Cary Players’ production will use corn flakes and a pair of shoes to create the sound of George Bailey trudging through the snow. Crunching a stalk of celery becomes the audio effect for Harry Bailey falling through the ice.
The cast includes Tony Hefner as Harry “Jazzbo” Heywood/Clarence Oddbody, Steve Migdon as Freddie Fillmore/Announcer, Morrisa Nagel as Lana Sherwood/Violet, Bridget Patterson as Sally Applewhite/Mary Bailey, and Nick Popio as Jake Laurents/George Bailey. Kenna Berg, the show’s actual assistant stage manager, makes a cameo appearance as the radio play’s Stage Manager.
Nancy Rich has directed and choreographed multiple shows for the Cary Players over the years, including Legally Blonde, You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Once Upon a Mattress, Guys and Dolls, and a Bollywood-style version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Her next directorial project for Cary Players is Shrek: The Musical, which was scheduled for Spring 2020, but postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The show is rescheduled for this coming April.
Darylene Hecht, the show’s music director, has created all the musical transitions and Christmas-y underscores. Like most radio shows of the era, there are commercial breaks with peppy jingles sung by the cast, featuring custom vocal arrangements by Hecht.
Costume designer for the show is Emily Johns. Lighting designer is Jeremy Diamond. Props mistresses are Nicola Lefler and Paula Andrews. The sound designer/engineer is Ed Killian, with Rod Rich at the Foley table. Bob Grannan is the technical coordinater and master carpenter, and Chris Berg is stage manager.
“My artistic vision for the show? Above all, the story must have emotional resonance — lots of heart,” says Rich. “Sometimes we get a little tear-y at rehearsals, because the scenes are so … well, they’re so human. In the staging, I’m not sticking to the radio broadcast convention of having the actors stand perfectly still in front of the microphones all the time. And for that, I may receive criticism that this production is not ‘historically accurate.’
“I’m a choreographer, ” she says, “and when I direct a show, it tends to be kinetic. This is not an apology — live theater must be a visual as well as an aural experience. There are Marvel moments in the story where Bedford Falls takes over our universe — kind of like in WandaVision. Those are the moments when we pull out the special special effects. If I were to describe this production, it would be: Heart + WandaVision.”
Joe Landry’s IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A LIVE RADIO PLAY (In Person at 7:30 p.m. Friday, 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, and 7:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 3-6), directed by Nancy Rich VIDEOS: https://www.youtube.com/user/CaryPlayers. NEWS RELEASE: https://caryplayers.org/spotlight/press-release-its-a-wonderful-life-radio-play/. (Cary Players at the Cary Arts Center in Cary). 2021-22 SEASON: https://caryplayers.org/shows/. OFFICIAL WEBSITES: https://caryplayers.org/, https://www.facebook.com/CaryPlayers, https://twitter.com/CaryPlayers, and https://www.youtube.com/user/CaryPlayers. TICKETS:$20 ($18 students and seniors 55+), except $17 per person for groups of eight or more (Note: All tickets are $20 at the door). Call 800-514-3849, 919-469-4069, or click here to buy tickets. DIRECTIONS: https://caryplayers.org/cary-arts-center/. PARKING: https://www.townofcary.org/home/showpublisheddocument/7187/637648017090330000. ACCESSIBILITY: https://www.townofcary.org/recreation-enjoyment/facilities/cary-arts-center/accessibility. TOWN OF CARY COVID-19 SAFETY PROTOCOL: https://www.townofcary.org/recreation-enjoyment/facilities/prcr-indoor-facilities-know-before-you-go. INFORMATION: 919-439-4410 or email@example.com. PLEASE DONATE TO: Cary Players.