by Shirley Lorraine
Santa Paula ushers in the season
Santa Paula Theatre Center wraps up 2017 with a holiday classic, “It’s A Wonderful Life: The Radio Play” by Tony Palermo. Playing through December 23 on the main stage with an extra performance on Thursday, Dec. 21, the stylish telling of this classic story of humanity and Christmas Eve redemption is nostalgic, warm and familiar. The 1946 Frank Capra film of “It’s A Wonderful Life” starring Jimmy Stewart is a seasonal standard and the story is part of the holiday must-see-every-year line-up for many.
It is Christmas Eve, 1948. Radio station WNBC in New York is preparing to present a live performance of It’s a Wonderful Life. From the moment patrons enter the theater, the mood is set. The audience becomes the “live audience” for the radio broadcast and is asked to participate throughout. Popular music and commercials from the era fill the airwaves to add to the nostalgia. When a blizzard prevents the stars from showing up, the station employees scramble to fill in to put on the show.
The tale within a center around George Bailey, who has grown up in the small town of Bedford Falls, Anywhere, USA. His plans to attend college, tour the world and do something special with his life are smashed when his father dies and George must take over running the family savings and loan business. He is pitted against Mr. Potter, a wealthy man who desires to take over the entire town.
As often happens, George finds himself too busy with daily life to pursue his dreams. Circumstances spiral downward despite his well-meaning efforts and he soon is contemplating ending it all to give his family the insurance payment his demise would affect.
Along comes Clarence, a 292-year old bumbling but loveable angel who is charged with helping George so that he can earn his wings. George learns how Bedford Falls would have been had he never been born, and comes to see that life is indeed wonderful as it is. Clarence gets his wings at last.
Director Fred Helsel has chosen a tight ensemble of seasoned players including Ron Rezac, Sindy McKay, Peggy Steketee, Doug Friedlander, Scott Blanchard, Isaac Deakyne, Elixio Flores, Andrew Garrett, Erin Hollander, Lois Lorback and Leslie Nichols. Sound effects produced live on stage are effective and fun to watch. Delightful costuming by Barbara Pedziwiatr lends just the right period ambiance.
Performances are strong throughout with each actor playing numerous roles as the radio show is presented, with varying voices, accents and personas. Laughs ensue as the characters struggle with their tasks in myriad amusing ways. Some of the evening’s strongest humor is given non-verbally in the background while the broadcast is on air. It would be worth attending a second time just to focus on the antics and character embellishments going on behind the scenes. Clearly, the cast is having a ball. Consequently, so does the audience. Catch it before it goes off air.
Santa Paula Theatre Center, 125 S. 7th Street, Santa Paula
“It’s a Wonderful Life” runs through Dec 23. Friday & Saturday eves 8 PM,
Sundays at 2:30 p.m. and Thursday, December 21 at 8 p.m.
Reservations are recommended
Adults $24, Students and Seniors $22, children under 12 $18.