Above: From left, Tony Estrella (George Bailey), Fred Sullivan, Jr. (Henry F. Potter/Clarence), Richard Noble (Joseph/Billy Bailey), Helena Tafuri (Violet Bick/Janie Bailey) and Emily Turtle (Announcer/Zuzu Bailey).
The faint sound of piano keys delicately playing “Winter Wonderland” grew louder as guests entered Gamm Theatre’s auditorium for “It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play.” With a cozy set depicting a radio studio modestly decorated with hanging Christmas lights and a wreath, cast members gathered around the piano on stage left and harmonized on beloved holiday songs; a touch of nostalgia filled the room.
Marking the second production of the Gamm’s 37th season, “It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” takes a fresh approach to the classic holiday film and transports the audience to the 1946 WGAM radio station in Warwick, Rhode Island, where seven radio personalities were about to go on-air with a live retelling of George Bailey and the events occurring in Bedford Falls.
With a unique twist on the original movie, the audience still found themselves enchanted by the heart-warming story.
From start to finish, the cast excelled in engaging its audience. Before the show, Jeff Church (voicing Harry Bailey, Earnie Bishop and others) invited guests to write short messages to people which would be read over the airwaves during the WGAM’s commercial breaks. Applause signs also lit up signaling audience response, and the theater filled with singing and clapping when the cast asked the audience to join in singing Christmas carols.
Additionally, the radio broadcast relied on a foley artist, played by DJ Potter, who mimicked sounds using objects such as a plunger, dishes and shoes. Watching the materials creating the sound effects was an intriguing part of the performance and produced its own sense of magic and wonderment.
The radio personalities gripped the audience’s attention with the distinct energy behind their voices. Every moment of excitement, wonder, anxiety, desperation and joy was captured through their voice inflections and facial expressions. Those playing multiple characters quickly alternated between voices — the most precious and wholesome coming from Emily Turtle, who played the announcer and sick little Zuzu Bailey.
Overall, there were no dull moments in the show. Each cast member brought their own character and charm to the stage, making you feel like you had known each of them your entire life. As a story with themes of community and resiliency, “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” is just what people need this holiday season after two years of the pandemic. Individuals are finally able to gather in person and celebrate safely, making this play a perfect outing for family and friends.
The Gamm Theatre’s “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” will run from now until Dec. 24. Tickets are $49 to $69, and discounts are available for seniors, students and groups. Guests must show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test before entering; regardless of vaccination status, all individuals must wear masks. For more information, click HERE to visit the Gamm Theatre’s website.