After last year’s holiday success of doing a live radio play of Miracle on 34th Street with Alfred Molina, Pasadena Playhouse has brought back the concept with a fresh adaptation of It’s A Wonderful Life now playing through December 23. It’s an absolutely delightful holiday evening spent at the historic Playhouse, with everything from the lit up Christmas tree in the courtyard to the on point 1940’s set, costumes and live commercials, all working in synergy to transport you to sitting in the audience of a live radio show and hearing this story for the first time.
The majority of the action takes place on the stage and auditorium of Studio A at WBFR in Manhattan, New York on Christmas Eve and just like the audiences of old, we are asked to applaud by a blinking applause light above the actors’ heads. The actors all play multiple roles save for the lead, a charismatic Simon Helberg as actor Jake Laurents playing George Bailey. It is fantastic to watch the actors slide into different roles, switching microphones and contorting their faces to accommodate going from a cranky, old man to a 6 year old boy and all the colorful characters that inhabit Bedford Falls.
It is the life story of a simple man, George Bailey, who is stopped from taking his own life by a guardian angel and given the gift of seeing what the world would be like had he never been born. The story never ceases to cut right to the heart of what really should matter at this time of year and this production steps up to meet the story with tenderness and humor. Rebecca Mozo is lovely as George’s sweetheart, Mary, and creates a poignant bond with Helberg. Haneefah Wood plays several characters and makes a sassy, earthy impression as Violet Bick. Ryun Yu, last seen in his tour de force performance as Gordon Hirabayashi in Hold These Truths, is once again deft at taking on several roles and makes for a feisty angel, Clarence. Rob Nagle anchors the show not only as the radio announcer but a myriad of characters including the irascible Mr. Potter.
The other vital character in this ensemble is foley artist, Jeff Gardner, providing every possible sound effect from glass shattering to footsteps, bells and slamming doors. It’s truly a kick to watch him work!
Cameron Watson returns to direct and does such a fine job of letting the audience into not only the world of a 1941 radio play but also into Bedford Falls and the singularly important life of one George Bailey. So take a trip back in time at Pasadena Playhouse this Christmas, and don’t forget the tissues.
Tickets for It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play are now available at pasadenaplayhouse.org, by phone at 626-356-7529, and at the box office at 39 South El Molino Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91101