A few nights ago, I had the pleasure of viewing the AD Players’ production of It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play at the Jeanette & LM George Theater. As someone who’s (somehow!) not seen the classic film, I went into the experience not knowing what to expect or even what the general plotline was about. What unfolded is what I can only describe as a smart, charming production that served as a warm, uplifting reminder of the impact that one person can have on the lives of others — even when that person doubts their worth.
It’s a Wonderful Life tells the story of George Bailey (played by Joel Sandel), and we bear witness to vignettes of his life from different periods in time — as a child, as a young adult, and present day. By all accounts, Bailey’s a pretty remarkable person. We learn of several of the deeds he’s done not just for his family, but also for his community. He’s someone that people in the town of Bedford Falls, New York, rely on. At one point in the story, he and his wife Mary (Christy Watkins) go as far as to use their honeymoon savings to help their community make it through the month. The impression we’re given is that George puts others before himself, so much so that he’s had to put his own dreams on the back burner for the betterment of his family and those around him. Instead of getting to see the world or going off to college, he settles down and continues on his family business, but what’s reaped from that is its own bit of magic.
What’s fascinating is that we as the audience are seeing this in a rather unconventional manner; we’re witnessing a play inside of a play. Drawing from playwright Joe Landry’s adaptation of the film into a live radio play, the AD Players’ production is presented inside the studio of a radio station, complete with an “Applause” sign that flickers numerous times throughout. It gives the production a more intimate feel, as we’re tasked with providing the reactions for this play that’s being broadcast from coast to coast, heard by American families all over the country. We’re very much a part of the production that’s unfolding before us — a deliberate choice for director Kevin Dean.
“By setting it (It’s a Wonderful Life) in a radio station on Christmas Eve in 1946, and being performed in front of an audience as a live radio play, we’re allowed to transport back to that time and create new magic,” Dean says in the program notes.
The backdrop of a live radio play means that several times during the production, the story “pauses” to deliver a message from the station’s sponsors. The cast sings catchy jingles, borrowing from the melodies of popular Christmas tunes to sell bathroom cakes (bars of soap) to the country. It injects lighthearted humor into the evening, and got the biggest reactions of the night out of the audience.
AD Players’ production of It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play is acted quite well, with every member of the cast shining. Danielle Hodgin’s designing captures a strong snapshot of the 1940s, and Kirk A. Domer’s scenic design is simplistic yet effective, with vintage microphones front and center.
The dramatic peak of It’s a Wonderful Life comes when George Bailey’s guardian angel, Clarence (Craig Griffin), is sent to save George’s life as he contemplates suicide. After George wishes that he had never been born, Clarence grants him that wish: the opportunity to see just what a world without George Bailey would be like.
The contrast between the two worlds is a reminder of the butterfly effect that our choices can make, both directly and indirectly, for the better. Every life is worth living. We all are capable of creating positive change, and that’s one of the enduring centerpieces of It’s a Wonderful Life.
WHAT: It’s A Wonderful Life: ALive Radio Play
WHERE: AD Players’ Jeanette & LM George Theater
5420 WestheimerRoad, Houston, TX 77056
WHEN: Through December 23
INFO: ADPlayers.orgor 713-526-2721.