By Bob Evans
“It’s a Wonderful Life–A Live Radio Play” tugs at the heartstrings–just like the Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed movie version did in the Frank Capra comedy so many years ago.
A superb cast brings the celebrated story of George Baily and his struggles to lead a good, honorable life for himself, his family, and the entire town of New Bedford. George finds his plans for his life change because his father’s untimely death, so he gives up his future to honor his father and the savings and loan business his father created. To fend off the advances of an greedy loan-shark, George faces several catastrophes to save the town and his friends.
Great staging, immersion into the cozy setting, and outstanding action and sound make this a show packed full of family fun. This is the type of show that could become a family tradition for Christmas. “It’s a Wonderful Life–A Live Radio Play” just screams family tradition. The show runs for only one more weekend at midtown’s Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre.
Actors portraying the 1940 era actors enter from the back and to the side of the audience section and immediately start interacting with the viewers. That piece alone creates a sense of being in a live radie show. The interaction draws the audience into the show, creating a cozy, intimate atmosphere. As the piano player plays some background music, the announcer introduces the cast as the characters they are portraying and gives brief resumes of their past performances. “It’s a Wonderful Life” maintains the texture of a radio play from the get-go. Wonderful staging, great sound props, and a simulation of a radio broadcast help immerse the audience into the storyline. The play even has “Applause” lights to help the audience feel they are watching a live radio broadcast.
“It’s a Wonderful Life–A Live Radio Play is based on the film from 1946 by famous comedy director, Frank Caprs. The movie was adapted for the stage by Joe Landry. To compliment the stage version, piano accompaniment comes from Brian Mitchell Bates.
Most know the story, because it has become a Christmas tradition and airs numerous times throughout the holiday season. But, seeing the show as a radio play provides an intimacy and texture one does not get from a flat movie or TV screen. The MET’s live action slowly pulls the audience into the production. The interaction of the audience and actors tugs at the emotions and eyes do tear up at the tender moments and the climax.
An exquisite cast combines their talents to involve the audience so intently. The play runs 90 minutes with no intermission, so there is not stopping once it starts rolling. Again, director Karen Paisley knows how to build the emotional charge of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Acting standouts, Jordan Fox and Alan Tilson receive great support from the entire cast. Fox channels his best James Stewart to make the story more realistic without mimicking Stewart. Tilson brings a cleverly smug, yet bungling, Angel Second Class Clarence to life in a charming performance. Bob Paisley and Charles Pulliam deliver stage-strong characters. They make their characters touching and harsh, respectively. Pulliam is a mean villain while Paisley is a likeable drunk Uncle Billy whose major mishap almost sends George to prison. Both are fun to watch work. Fox’s interaction tion with his wife and children is strong and steady. Tilson’s angel who just can’t seem to earn his stature, finally finds the way to earn his wings in a delightful performance.
The play stars Jordan Fox as George Bailey and Alan Tilson as Clarence the angel who still has not earned his wings and remains an angel second class. The balance of the ensemble cast is: Reese Betts, Brad Dawty, Valerie Dykes, Jordan Haas, Zach York, Charles Pulliam, , Cori Anne Weber, Breena Bridge, Salem Deel, Brie Henderson, Bob Paisley, Rebecca Ralstin, Charlie Weber.
The live radio cast continues for one more week. For tickets visit the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre website. Advance ticketing is suggested to avoid shut outs at the door.
Tags: “It’s a Wonderful Life–A Live Radio Play”, Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, Kansas City Theater, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment