Each holiday season, families around the country gather around the television (or other screen) to watch one of the most beloved Christmas movies of all time: It’s a Wonderful Life. But what about those families in the 1940s who didn’t have a new invention called television. If they wanted to catch a version of a holiday show, they listened to it on their radio.
So it’s fitting that Virginia Rep decided to stage It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play this holiday season to give Richmond audiences the chance to see the show in a different light, complete with commercials and behind-the-scenes hustle and bustle.
Virginia Rep’s production of the play creates the same familiar dramatic magic that the movie does each year. While the story of George Bailey is etched in time – George sees his dreams squashed by a crotchety, power-hungry wealthy man – it’s still very relevant to our world today.
Whether you love the story of George Bailey or aren’t a big fan, you will be impressed with Virginia Rep’s production.
This ensemble cast has a harmonious synergy that keeps the audience interested and engaged. It’s fun to watch as the actors gather at the radio station to put on the show, chatting about anything and everything that comes to mind. It makes you feel like you are right there with them. And of course you are – as their live radio audience, providing all the applause, tears and laughter they need for the broadcast.
Casting an ensemble piece takes a special touch of magic and director Chelsea Burke has brought that magic to the stage. There isn’t a weak link in this talented cast.
Bo Wilson, Maggie Bavolack, Joshua Mullins, and William Anderson take on multiple roles in the production and switch between those roles with ease and comfort.
Anna da Costa is the perfect Mary to Kurt Benjamin Smith’s George Bailey and it doesn’t hurt that with the right wig, costume and makeup she is a perfect double for actress Donna Reed who performed the role in the original movie.
Smith’s portrayal of George Bailey is so perfect that you completely forget that he’s not Jimmy Stewart from the film. He brings the character to life so realistically that you can see George — remember most folks would be hearing this through their radio — and every emotion that he experiences throughout the rollercoaster journey that ultimately ends in happiness and acceptance.
Kudos to scenic designer Mercedes Schaum for the winter backdrop and especially for the little present at the end of the show in the form of falling snow. BJ Wilkinson’s lighting design really enhances the story.
It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play is a great present for the holidays. It runs through January 2 at The November Theatre. For showtimes and tickets, go here.
To provide the highest level of safety, all patrons are required to show proof of vaccination and photo ID, or proof that they have received a negative COVID test by a professional technician within 48 hours of the performance date/time.
Feature image: William Anderson, Maggie Bavolack, Josh Mullins, Bo Wilson, Kurt Benjamin Smith and Anna da Costa. [Photo by Aaron Sutten]