If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

A Mostly Wonderful “Life” at Long Wharf

The timeless tale of George Bailey, Clarence the Angel and evil Mr. Potter gets a new spin in “It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” currently on the boards for the holiday season at Long Wharf Theatre. The Frank Capra classic should become an annual seasonal attraction for the New Haven theatre. Like “A Christmas Carol” and “The Nutcracker”, there are just some stories that never grow old.

 

Connecticut playwright Joe Landry has faithfully based his script on the original screenplay by Frank Capra, Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett and Jo Swerling and “It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” is enacted breathlessly by a talented ensemble of five actors and one Foley artist (the resourceful, very busy and invaluable Nathan A. Roberts) as a radio performance from the period.

 

All the actors, with the exception of Alex Moggridge playing George, take on a variety of roles. Led by the vocally brilliant Dan Domingues as the host of the radio show, as well as the nefarious Mr. Potter and the luckless Uncle Billy, the talented cast also includes Kevyn Morrow, Kate MacCluggage and Ariel Woodiwiss - all marvelous, very individual performers of the highest caliber. This is a prime example of true ensemble work.

 

The ever-creative Eric Ting directs the proceedings and embellishes the straight-forward adaptation with his own special flair. There are twice as many sound effects here - provided by genius designer John Gromada - and the two period commercials Ting added are deliciously and oh-so-politically incorrect. Mikiko Suzuki Macadams’ intricately detailed set, Jessica Ford’s period-perfect costumes and Stephen Strawbridge’s lighting add to the technical expertise on display.

 

I could have done, however, without Ting’s concept of a contemporary George breaking into the radio studio at the start of the show. This piece of unnecessary business only served to make one impatient for the familiar Christmas story to get underway. I also question the confusing decision to strand George alone onstage when he is sent back to earth as the unborn. It seems a pushy concept still in the developmental phase.

 

Quibbles aside, this crowd-pleasing rendition of an American classic does its job admirably, exerting a strong, emotional pull and reducing most audience members to joyful tears by the time we hear that final Christmas bell. Joy to the world! Long Wharf is now the place to be for the holidays!

 

“It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” continues at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven through Saturday, December 31. For further information and ticket reservations, call the theatre box office at: 203.787.4282 or visit: www.longwharf.org.

 

Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

 


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