PlayMakers brings new life to classic ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’

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The cast of “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” closes the Tuesday dress rehearsal performance by singing the ballad “Auld Lang Syne.”

In 1947, Jimmy Stewart — crying out to his guardian angel Clarence — begged to live again.

His cries have been answered this year by PlayMakers Repertory Company.

The company’s holiday production of “It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play,” breathes new life into both the classic story and the art of radio acting.

REVIEW

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Performance: Saturday, Dec. 1

SEE THE SHOW

Time: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 16

Location: Paul Green Theatre

Info: http://www.playmakersrep.org/wonderfullife

The production features five actors and one live musician who are putting on a radio production of “It’s A Wonderful Life” on a Christmas Eve in the 1940s.

Each actor starts at a microphone, reading multiple characters from pages of script.

As the story progresses, those pages are tossed and the studio transforms into Bedford Falls — the small, fictional New York town in which “It’s A Wonderful Life” is set.

Though the actors continue to shift characters by changing voices in radio fashion, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the tale of George Bailey.

Todd Lawson, playing George in his PlayMakers debut, gives a freshness to the character. He pays homage to the George built by Jimmy Stewart without creating a distracting imitation.

In the second act, when George sees what life would be like had he never been born, Lawson perfectly embodies the frantic and then excited George.

Ray Dooley — playing radio show host Freddie Filmore and antagonist Mr. Potter among other bit parts — stretches impressively through a range of characters, at times even arguing with himself.

Brandon Garegnani moved with ease from lighthearted angel Clarence to charming Navy vet Harry Bailey in between playing a cast of different neighbors.

His earnest Clarence highlighted the spirit of the film’s original unwinged guardian angel and stole the show once he came down to save George.

But the show’s most notable star was musician and sound-effects extraordinaire Mark Lewis.

Lewis manned a piano and a table of knick-knacks, playing a tone-setting score at one moment and rattling metal at another.

The sound effects perpetuated the idea that the audience was listening in on the story rather than watching a pure production, furthering the imaginative journey.

It’s the small surprises that make “It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” the exceptional production that it is.

The versatile set holds small surprises in every beat: the backdrop shifts between a glowing New York City and twinkling stars; radio commercials showcase quirky song and dance while shouting out PlayMakers’ sponsors.

It’s impossible to walk into Paul Green Theatre and not be drawn into the warm holiday spirit.

And as the show closes with a round of “Auld Lang Syne,” a ballad about times past, it’s impossible to ignore the rich tradition behind the classic story.

After nearly 70 years of a ho-hum rerun life every December, “It’s A Wonderful Life” is once again, truly wonderful.

Contact the desk editor at arts@dailytarheel.com.

Thanks for reading.

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