The Pollard Presents “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play:” with Great Inspiration
Things have been pretty tough all around the world in the past couple of years and it is so easy to forget how wonderful life can be. Live theatre companies have had a tough time and they are beginning to come back. It is easy in this electronic age to forget how wonderful—how important live theatre is to the community, to the spirit, to the foundation of all entertainment. The direct connection to our emotions is a vital experience that desperately needs to be revived and the Pollard Theatre in Guthrie is bringing that to us with “It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” by Joe Landry. This classic Christmas story tells the tale of a man with a dream, a dream to build, a dream to travel and a dedication to help people. He did not fulfill his dreams, life always intervened, but he built a life that made a difference and he built the foundation that made it possible for many others to fulfill their own dreams. The story is often associated with the great Jimmy Stewart, the actor who brought George Bailey to life in Frank Capra’s movie with such genuine charity and strength that the movie has become a beloved tradition for many. But the connection created by live theatre is a great one, and the actor who play’s George Bailey at the Pollard’s presentation is a man who pays homage to Stewart, pays homage to Christmas and honors the best of man among men confronting the worst of man. After many struggles George Bailey finds that life has let him down and he faces a terrible failure driving him to consider suicide on a cold Christmas eve. An angel, Clarence observes the life that George Bailey has lived and is given the task of giving George Bailey a chance to live through his disappointments. If Clarence can succeed in saving George, he may earn his wings and graduate to angel first class.
As Clarence watches George Bailey lives a life unexpected. At every turn his plans go awry and his dreams of building everything from bridges to skyscrapers becomes dust in the wind. Instead, he lives in drudgery as his thirst for success only slaked from the love that he finds in the beautiful Mary who steadfastly remains by his side. At his bleakest moment he considers ending it all. He is rescued by Clarence who shows him that while he may not have built buildings and towns he has built lives. His whole life has been dedicated to making it possible for others to fulfill their dreams with grace and vigor. George Bailey has had a wonderful life and it is destined to grow into something even better than he had ever dreamed. His life, his wife, his children and his town have all prospered due to his efforts.
In the production at the Pollard theatre, Jared Blount directs the Radio Play. Typical of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, this radio drama employed important actors of talent to broadcast the show live from their studio set. On stage are the actors, the foley artist who handles the sound effects and the scripts. Many of the actors perform in a number of roles including doing the commercials, often as a singing jingle. Audience members may remember those jingles such as ‘You’ll wonder where the yellow went, when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent.’
The stars of this radio production are Jake Laurents played by Joshua McGowen with Sally Applewhite played by Tiffany Tuggle. They portray George and Mary Bailey, prominent residents of the small town known as Bedford Falls. The announcer at the radio station is Freddie Filmore played by James A. Hughes. In addition to announcing, Filmore has the role of the villainous Henry Potter a man ruled by greed and power among others. George Bailey is saved by Clarence, the second-class angel. This compassionate and slightly bumbling angel is played by British actor William Buckingham. Bringing Buckingham to life is David Fletcher-Hall, himself a versatile British actor. Playing multiple roles from Uncle Billy to brother Harry Bailey is Harry ‘Jazzbo’ Heywood. Taking the role of Heywood is another familiar face to Oklahoma audiences, Wil Rogers. The roles of Mrs. Bailey, mother to George and Harry as well as Violet Bick and other assorted ladies is Lana Sherwood, starlet extraordinaire. Lana Sherwood is adeptly portrayed by Jessa Schinske a young talent becoming well known in the metropolitan area.
On stage in the vital capacity of foley artist is Jared Blount director of “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” providing the sound effects in just the same manner as was done 75 years ago. Blount directs the cast with authority and sensitivity, and he handles the sound effects expertly. The scene design for “It’s a Wonderful Life” is by James A. Hughes with properties by Timothy Stewart and costumes by Michael James. The lighting design is courtesy of Stage Manager Michael Long and Kris Schinske Wolf, Box Office Manager for the Pollard, is Assistant Director to Jared Blount. Blount is also responsible for the sound design with the help of Lisa Mack as sound operator. The set construction is from the hard work of Michael Long and Dakota Muckelrath. The original music and musical arrangements are from Kevin Connors. The entire cast and crew clearly formed a genial and competent working arrangement allowing “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” to shine through to the audience. It is fascinating to watch the actors transition characters, and then suddenly become the radio stars singing the jingle. It is also great fun to take a moment during the show to close your eyes and lean back imagining yourself listening to the radio program just as the second World War has ended and folks were also yearning for a return to normalcy. The play becomes both nostalgic and relevant under the skilled performances delivered by the Pollard actors, both company members and guest performers.
“It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” opened November 26, 2021 to kick off the Christmas Season and closes December 23, 2021. Curtain is 8:00 pm every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings with a Sunday 2:00 pm matinee. The Pollard Theatre is located at 120 West Harrison Avenue in beautiful downtown Guthrie. Visit www.thepollard.org or call 405-282-2800 or email [email protected] for tickets and information. This is an experience to delight the whole family, and a great Christmas message as appropriate for our times as it was nearly four score years ago.