“No man is a failure who has friends.” So goes the Mark Twain quote Clarence the Angel (Second Class) writes in his note to George Bailey at the conclusion of the beloved Christmas classic “It’s A Wonderful Life.” The Valley Players Theater brought a live radio play version of the 1946 film to the stage in Waitsfield December 2-11, 2022. Mad River Valley Television (MRVTV) filmed the stage adaptation and will soon have it available on its website (mrvtv.com).
This was the second live radio play adaptation brought to The Valley Players stage this year, following “The Great Gatsby.” “It’s A Wonderful Life” sees two of the earlier play’s actors, Aric Brown and Tom Jacques, return to WBFR radio station. Brown, who played an actor portraying Jay Gatsby in this fall’s production, plays Jake Laurents as George Bailey, the kind, generous man who has been beaten up by life. Brown stayed true to Jimmy Stewart’s Bailey, one of his most iconic roles. Jacques stole the show as Freddie Fillmore, the radio play’s announcer as well as the loathed Henry Potter, the druggist Mr. Gower, George Bailey’s kid brother Harry, and a host of other characters, often playing several characters at once in a scene. His voice and range impressed.
In a live radio play, actors portray actors who are often playing several characters in the radio play. Andra Kisler and Stefanie Seng play foley artists who make the radio play’s sound effects (which include crunching on Corn Flakes in high heels to sound like trudging through snow). Danielle Dukette played Sally Applewhite as Mary Hatch, George Bailey’s wife in the role made famous by Donna Reed. Dukette brings Reed’s charm and sweetness to the role. The cast is rounded out with Susan Loynd as Harry “Jazzbo” Heywood, playing Clarence Odd-body (AS2), as well as Harry Bailey, Sam Wainwright, Bert the cop and others, and Sarah Storjohann as Lana Sherwood, who plays Violet Bick, Rose Bailey, Zuzu and others.
Theatergoers were transported back to the 1940s in the aftermath of WWII, in which Harry Bailey becomes a hero while George holds down the fort in their quaint hometown of Bedford Falls. Many will be familiar with the spirit-affirming Christmas tale, in which George is down on his luck on Christmas Eve and Clarence Odd-body answers his prayers by giving him a glimpse of what life would look like without George. The adaptation mostly stayed true to the well-known film. Spoiler alert: all works out for George in the end.
This story was brought to life by director Shannon Sanborn (The Valley Players board chair) and co-director Ashley Hall, with musical direction by Daniel Bruce and lighting design by Irene Halibozek. The Christmas spirit pervaded throughout the performance, complete with hot cocoa and cookies served during intermission.