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We know the story of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” George Bailey, the mensch from Bedford Falls, comes on some hard financial times and decides to end it all when a Level 2 angel named Clarence is sent to let him know what a wonderful life he’s had. In the movie he’s played by Jimmy Stewart, with his Everyman charm and peculiarly American verve. In the Queen Theatre’s delightful radio play version, he’s portrayed on the broadcastby Jake Laurents, acted by the very good Duke Lafoon.
It’s a nice little conceit to have a radio play based on a film based on a short story performed on a stage, but here it works. This is thanks to director and Queens Theatre director Ray Cullom, playwright Joe Landry and the stellar cast, who with the exception of Lafoon and Sarah Stevens, play actors voicing several parts, from little Zuzu to the miserable, rotten old creep Mr. Potter.
Stevens plays the eager Sally Applewhite, who voices Mary Hatch, George’s wife. Tim Jerome plays Freddie Fillmore, the announcer of sonorous voice, who also voices Potter, Ernie and a few other people. Erin Maguire plays Lana Sherwood, who voices the sultry Violet Bick, George’s mother and Joseph, Clarence’s supervising angel. James Barry plays Harry “Jazzbo” Heywood, who voices both the confident Harry Bailey and the befuddled and sweet-natured Clarence. Alex Mandell rounds out the cast as the unnamed Foley artist who handles the sound effects, with some help from the brilliant sound designer Joshua D. Reid. Cullom’s cast not only makes the characters of “It’s a Wonderful Life” come alive, but they make the characters who play the characters come alive as well.
The play is set during Christmas of 1946 in “the auditorium of Studio A at WQTR in New York City.” Michael Hetzer’s set is magical, with lighted signs above everything that read “On Air” and “Applause.” When the “Applause” sign lights up, we in the audience happily obey. There’s a sparkling little Christmas tree stage right and the back of the stage is full of stuff for sound effects, like a wind machine and clodhoppers and other ordinary things that make extraordinary noises. Reuben Rosenthal makes great use of the lighting in Queens Theatre’s main stage and is adept at both bathing the stage in a cheery holiday glow and plunging it into darkness during the depths of George Bailey’s despair. Sydney Maresca’s costumes are era-perfect, especially that little hat worn by Sarah Stevens’ Sally and her long-waisted, full-skirted dress with the dusting of sequins on the collar.
The Queens Theatre’s “It’s A Wonderful Life” is at least as much fun as Frank Capra’s iconic movie. It will be up till Dec. 24.
If You Go
It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play
14 United Nations Ave. South
Flushing Meadows Corona Park
Corona, NY 11368
©2011 Community Newspaper Group
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