It’s a Wonderful Life: the Radio Show. From the Screen to the Stage, an Exciting Journey.

It’s a Wonderful Life: the Radio Show. From the Screen to the Stage, an Exciting Journey.

poster, courtesy of the gladstone, Plosive theatre 2018

Perhaps you havent’t seen Frank Capra’s film with Jimmy Stewart in the rôle of George Bailey,! It appears regularly on Turner classic movies (TCM) these days, and provides an excellent background to this modern morality tale of raw capitalism where goodness and self sacrifice face off against greed, ruthlessness and pure evil in the town of Bedford Falls. Nevertheless, one might wonder how a film consisting of emotionally powerful images and good camera work could possibly be turned into a moving and amusing evening as an on stage radio drama based on the creative use of sound. But that is exactly what it was!

Shifting voices, spoken description , dialogue and song as well as a mass of unexpected effects,with acompanying gadgets and furniture, steal the show. There are also portions of the story-line that produce a voyage into a nightmarish world where the hero learns how Bedford Falls might have been if George Bailey , Brad Long, had never been born. This version makes fine use, as the Gladstone always does, of a trio of singers working as a chorus of 1930’s style swingers. The drama sets off when « the almighty » an ethereal Michelle Blanc,and her companion, Chris Ralph, an angel trying to win his wings, construct a long flashback in time!

And it all works thanks to Palermo’s witty writing and Dave Dawson’s balanced and fine tuned direction which captured the important moments of this complex story. Brian Baily struggles to realize his life ‘s dreams, to respond to the call of the people in his home town, to resist the nasty capitalist’s attemps to take over the town, to become a good family man and yet he still manages to catch the eye of the great one above who intervenes in his own special way. Its true that several of these bits of theatre turned radio are rather dated : nowadays, angels wander among the living in TV drama, such investment struggles are fairly common fare.!! Still, the Palermo- Capra retelling of the near tragic life of George Bailey in the period beween the depression and the pre and post-war eras turned into a tightly organized performance, and acceptable entertainment for ados as well as for the older crowd.

In his notes, Palermo even suggests that the story reminds one of Dickens’A Christmas Carol where Bailey becomes Bob Cratchet and Mr Potter the banker is a scrooge figure but I’m not sure that parallel is significant.

Director Dave Dawson has imposed a personal style on this show where he makes the most imaginative use of actors , and a highly entertaining orchestration of sound effets that drew as much attention to the radio process as they did to the story which became enthralling , especially during act II.

The music, under the direction of Robin Guy, had a hint of atonal chaos which became the perfect background for the arguing couple. At other moments the little chimes began their delicate ringing to warn us of the switch to that realm of of the other being watching the drama from above. Then the excellent cast of actors all standing behind their microphones transformed their voices from little children to trembling grannies or scolding moms, from sympathetic friends to a snarling banker (Chris Ralph also became the frozen voiced accountant) or to the drawling voice of a woman of ill repute. Michelle Leblanc set her lips in place, relaxed her face and went to it with great intensity as a great variety of voices poured non stop out of her vocal cords.

A whole society of babbling creatures congregated on Teri Loretto’s set around seven performers, creating the sounds of a bar with chatting drinkers and tinkling glasses, or a group of journalists buzzing in the wings waiting to interview Bailey. Such coordinated sound effects were the secret of the evening.

Especially noteworthy was the the nuanced performance by Brad Long (George Bailey) whom we also met in Building the Wall, at the Gladstsone. There is the extremely striking presence of Vivian Burns as one of the singers in the Gladstone Trio which included Robin Guy and Doreen Taylor-Claxton. As Maria, Bailey’s wife, Vivian revealed the quality of her soprano voice but also her talents as a smoothly accomplished actress who fit in beautifully with Michelle Leblanc, Chis Ralph, Chris McLeod and Brad Long all longtime regulars on Ottawa stages whom we have also seen at the Gladstone.

This appears to be the best radio show the group has ever done and the sign that the satisfying ensemble performance shows how Plosive productions is securing its place as a truly professional production company in the region.

It’s a Wonderful Life continues at the Gladstone until Decembe 15.

A Plosive Production.

Adapted by Tony Palmero

Directed by Dave Dawson

Musical director Robin Guy

Original set pieces: Ivo Valentik

Costumes: Teri Loretto -Valentik and Ensemble

Props Ensemble

Lighting assistant : David Magladry and Kat Wong

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