By Bob Evans
For a fantastic Christmas seasonal show, Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre presents “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” by Joe Landy, that sets the holiday classic in a local radio station with the actors arriving to a live audience (a la 1930’s style broadcasts) to read the story to their radio listeners.
For the third year, the MET offers a Christmas classic for Kansas City audiences. Just as “A Christmas Carol” built a wide audience and became a family tradition, the MET hopes to create another family tradition for the season. “It’s a Wonderful Life,” mostly known as the Frank Capra movie starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, and Henry Travers, appears annually on many TV stations, as a favorite Christmas seasonal classic.
This production grabs the audience from the get-go. The music director, Brian Mitchell Bates enters in full winter gear, takes off his coat and muffler, sits down at the 88s and starts a medley of Christmas songs. The radio show stage manager enters and tests all microphones to ensure their appropriate levels. As this entrance continues, the other cast members enter the “radio studio” and greet their studio audience with chat, hand shakes, hugs, cookies, candy canes, and small talk to create the atmosphere local radio personalities greeting live listeners. As they shed their outdoor coats and warm up, the actual radio portion begins with the announcer introducing the cast and telling the audience of their accomplishments. As the broadcast nears, the actors grab their scripts, find their seats and wait for the program to begin.
Having Jordan Fox in the Jimmy Stewart role of George Bailey sets the tone for the entire show. Fox’s lean body and height resembles Stewart’s image and his voice also matches the famed movie star. Rebecca Ralston takes on the Donna Reed role of Mary Bailey in another look-alike casting, giving more credence to the production. And, as Angel Second Class, Clarence, Alan Tilson provides an absolutely charming portrayal of the angel who has not managed to earn his wings in his nearly 200 years of attempts.
With this production, most of the actors reprise their roles but with production taking place in the MET’s new home, The Warwick, the staging brings a fresh look to the show. Also, knowing the show gives the actors the chance to change their presentation of their parts. With the addition of some new faces, the production remains fresh for viewers.
“It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” brings a sweet, family-oriented play just in time for Christmas. The show is a fulfilling evening of entertainment as a one-act, 90-minute piece with no intermission. The casting, characters, costumes, sound, lighting, props reflect attention to detail. Of special note are the sound effects that the audience sees as the play progresses. An over-annoying taxi horn always brought startled surprise. Miniature doors slamming helped direct the audience attention to the props used. The microphones and other set pieces give the texture of actually being the studio audience of a 1930s live broadcast.
The show contains the charm of the movie and tugs at the heartstrings. Just like when Ebenezer wakes up filled with Christmas spirit, the joy of George’s friends in the town coming to his rescue can bring tears of joy.
Like all Christmas shows, expect a happy ending. The MET’s Christmas show definitely delivers solid entertainment value. The show leaves the audience happy, entertained, and smiling. “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” should be on everyone’s list of shows to see. No one will be disappointed. This production will grow as word of mouth circulates.
The cast for “It’s a Wonderful Life” is led by a trio of actors, all in their third year with the production: Jordan Fox as George Bailey, Alan Tilson as Clarence the Angel (Angel Second Class), Rebecca Ralston as Mary Bailey. Also in the cast and in a variety of roles are Bob Paisley, Chuck Pulliam, Brie Henderson, Cori Weber, Cindy Siefers, Matthew Emerick, Ryan Fortney, Victoria Barbee, Gabe Traub, Holly Lichlenauer, Brenna Grace, Charlie Weber.
The Production team is Ryan Fortney, stage manager; Karen Paisley, production designer; Marc Manley, props master; Shawn Walden, stage managing intern; Brian Mitchell Bates, accompanist/musical director. The crew is Shawn Walden, Bob Paisley Alex Paxton, James Paisley.
“It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” continues at Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre at their new location, The Warwick on Main Street in KC Missouri. The show opened Dec. 8 and continues through Dec. 16. Check the MET website for more information, dates, times, prices, and ticketing.
Tags: It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, Kansas City Theatre, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment