IAWL logoIt’s been 2 years or so since Spotlight Players left their Beech Grove playhouse with the promise of a return to producing plays sometime in the future. The future has arrived and Spotlight finds themselves in a very nice situation as part of the vanguard of a Lawrence Indiana arts movement which hopes to find a home on the old Fort Benjamin Harrison facility.

Their new home, Theater at the Fort, is a well appointed facility, albeit finely-aged, with lots of comfortable seating, an enormous stage, large bathrooms, a good sized lobby and plenty of parking in close proximity. Talking with Spotlight founders Jim LaMonte and Jeremy Tuterow before the performance, I learned that the city of Lawrence is committed to the success of the new enterprise and, with Partnerships for Lawrence, it is helping to push through improvements to the theatre such as a new lighting system and backstage renovations.

Spotlight theatre

This 1942 photo (from Wikipedia) shows the theatre building in the background.

 

At any rate, Spotlight is off to a great start with their first production in their new digs – It’s A Wonderful Life – A Live Radio Play, which was penned by Phillip Grecian and is based on the Frank Capra movie of the same name. My understanding is that this play was done by the theatre group years ago and that they were pleased to have many of that production’s actors returning in the major roles. I can see why director Jim LaMonte thought that was wise as the cast is first class and does a remarkably fine job.

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Jamison Allen and Jean Childers Arnold (at left microphone) are George and Mary Bailey in Spotlight Players’ “It’s A Wonderful Life”. Eva Arnold, Abigail Allen and Nathan Allen are at the right microphone.

Jamison Allen returns to the iconic role of George Bailey. His wonderfully energetic style and expressive voice talents are key to the successful presentation of the story. Allen does a terrific job through all of the Bailey character’s joys and dismays and it is a credit to his interpretation of the role that I never once thought of him in any context with Mr. Jimmy Stewart’s portrayal. Likewise, Jean Childers Arnold (my 2014 Mitty Award winner for her superior work as Bella in CCP’s Lost in Yonkers) is perfect in the role of George’s wife, Mary. Her eloquent conveyances of Mary’s character are spot-on and a pleasure to see and hear.

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Dennis Forkel (left) does a standout job as Clarence, the wingless angel, and David Wood provides the voices of several characters, here playing Joseph, Clarence’s angel supervisor.

Dennis Forkel takes the part of the wingless angel, Clarence, for what I am told is the 4th time! Forkel brings out the feeling of helpfulness and courage that this character needs. His sense of Clarence’s gentle nature comes through well and is effective. As do most of these voice actors, Forkel has a small team of characters to perform besides his main one. His turn as druggist Mr. Gower is a standout among them. Tim Latimer does a terrific job with the villainous  Mr. Potter. The rough voiced quality he chose was on the mark and was perhaps a challenge to convey so clearly. He also provided cabby Ernie with a comic tone.

Outside of those main characters, standout offerings in smaller roles were provided by Patrick Becker in a myriad of roles, all distinct and identifiable in their variety; David Wood shows a mastery of accents and tones in his handling of Uncle Billy and Joseph, among others; Elizabeth Giffin is delightful with her nosed-pinched Tilly, her sultry Violet and her gruff toned Potter’s secretary.

Nathaniel Allen, Eva Arnold, Abigail Allen and Grace Allen all do first-class work as the many children in the story and Jeremy Tuterow is a very busy man providing the many sound effects as the Foley Artist. Overall, it’s an awesome cast from top to bottom and under LaMonte’s sharp direction the story is effectively told with emotion and joy as the pay-offs.

Bottomline: this is an inspired production, telling what is a very familiar story in a way that stays loyal to the original yet has captivating qualities all its own.

It’s A Wonderful Life – A Live Radio Play continues Spotlight Players new site, Theater at the Fort, 8920 Otis Ave. in Lawrence through December 13th. You can find out more information and make reservations by going to http://www.spotlight-players.org.

 

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