Performing a radio show on the theater stage can be demanding for the performers who are using words to set scenes and for an audience required to use its imagination.
An audience, however, doesn’t need a great deal of guidance in scene-setting when watching the clever cast performing “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” at Byrum Hall at Anderson University. The performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and next weekend, and at 2:30 p.m. this Sunday. It’s the second year for this radio play and it could become a seasonal tradition for families seeking a novel way to celebrate Christmas.
[Photo: Tristen Rodden and Anne Barlow exchange dialogue as George and Mary Bailey in "It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play," being performed this weekend and next at Anderson University's Byrum Hall.]
The story, of course, celebrates the Christmas spirit of a small community, Bedford Falls, N.Y., as town favorite George Bailey contemplates suicide after losing his friends’ life savings to the conniving Henry Potter.
The play, directed by Matthew Socey who allows the students room to explore their characters, is a 90-minute reading of the Jimmy Stewart-Donna Reed movie classic from 1946. Five performers stand in front of microphones inside a radio studio. Nearby are pianist Emily Farris and four women (Rachel Fleenor, Raechel Robertson, Kelsie Wessel and Cassi Russell) providing sound effects: the snap of a dollar bill, footsteps in the snow and the oft-heard shutting of a door.
This version seems spunkier and wittier than last year’s show as the cast of 10 keeps the dialogue and facial expressions lively.
Tristen Rodden is a fine choice as the everyman that George Bailey represents. Rodden stays in humble character as the cast works adds laughter while switching in and out of their roles. (You can chortle whenever you need in this intimate on-stage setting.)
Anne Barlow, as George’s wife Mary, helps define the Baileys’ goodness. Her eyes sparkle as she matches Donna Reed’s sincerity. Rodden and Barlow develop a tender relationship. Even when Rodden details George’s dreams, Barlow watches with admiration.
Colin McCord takes on 15 roles, even switching mid-sentence from a panicky Uncle Billy into a softly-snarling Potter. Though some of his muggings are outlandish, his range is uncanny, from a whiny kid to an old man with backwoods swagger.
Kirsten Huber superbly runs the course from the vixen Violet to a distinguished bank examiner. Jordan Moody brings smile and charm to his roles, including the critical gotta-be-innocent portrayal of Clarence the guardian angel.
All the efforts, however, underscore the power of radio and the thrill of the stage.
The audience may want to focus on the words but there’s a lot going on behind the lines. All 10 on stage, along with the stage crew, bring “It’s a Wonderful Life” together for a touching Christmas memory.
—Scott L. Miley is a reporter for The Herald Bulletin. Story republished with permission.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson University continues to be recognized as one of America's top colleges by U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review, and Forbes. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, music, nursing, and theology.