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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Most of us are familiar with the story of George Bailey.  Its source, the 1946 film version of It’s a Wonderful Life, is considered by many to be one of the best movies of all time – and it has become an endearing part of every Christmas season. The tale of George’s repeatedly interrupted plans, his burning need to leave his hometown, his resolve in taking over his father’s building and loan business, his final crippling despair, and his recovery (with the help of a wingless guardian angel) is well known and thoughtfully remembered.

In spite of this familiarity, it is a fine pleasure to see ATI’s production of It’s a Wonderful Life – A Live Radio Play and be reminded of the beautiful lessons that the story gives us. As director Suzanne Fleenor writes in her program notes: “We are all George Bailey”. And as she has rendered the play onstage, we are given an extremely well-cast, often funny, often touching, theatrically vivid experience.

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from left: Kevin Casey (in booth), Annabelle Pfeiffer, Judy Fitzgerald, Don Ferrell, Sherman Burdette, Adam O. Crowe, Luca Arive and Cynthia Collins in a scene from ATI’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life – A Live Radio Play”.

Because the show, written by Joe Landry, is offered in the context of a radio program, most of the actors involved play a variety of parts. Cynthia Collins, Don Farrell, and Adam O. Crowe cover a majority of the Bedford Falls townspeople, with Ms. Collins featured as town floozy Violet Bick as well as George’s mother. Mr. Farrell runs a gamut of featured characters as George’s father, his brother Harry, and his uncle Billy – but his most touching role is as George’s guardian angel Clarence. Mr. Crowe is a highlight in his roles as the mean and controlling Henry Potter, and as Clarence’s superior angel. All three show remarkable range as they devise voice and body portrayals for a myriad of the small town populace. A quartet of young actors and actresses take the roles of George’s children plus some of the main characters in their youth – and all – Luca Arive, Sadie Cohen, Lincoln Everitt, and Annabelle Pfeiffer – do a fine job.

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Judy Fitzgerald as Mary Bailey and Paul Tavianini as George Bailey in a scene from ATI’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life – A Live Radio Play”.

Judy Fitzgerald is just wonderful in the guise of Mary Hatch, who becomes Mary Bailey. There is true sweetness and strength in her portrait of Mrs. George Bailey and a touch of sadness is evident at times as well. Paul Tavianini offers up a complete George Bailey, with all the unsureness, the bravado in his youth, the resolve and kindness in his business practices, the turmoil of his troubles and the revision of his outlook about his life. Tavianini makes perfect choices for his character’s changeable frame of mind, his dutiful countenance and his down-to-earth nature. It is a memorable performance.

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Sherman Burdette as Art Foley in a scene from ATI’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life – A Live Radio Play”.

Last, but hardly least, is the work done by Indianapolis television personality, Sherman Burdette, who handles the sound effects necessary for the radio program. Unfailing in his task, he is the busiest man onstage and he deserves a lot of credit for a difficult job well done.

Bottomline: All the aspects of a truly enjoyable show come together here. Ms. Fleenor’s staging inventions, coupled with the spot-on portrayals by her superior cast, on P. Bernard Killian’s decorative holiday set design, turn what could be a staid radio program format into a lively theatrical offering. It is a gift, and I highly recommend it as a part of your holiday entertainments.

It’s a Wonderful Life – A Live Radio Play continues at ATI’s Studio Theatre in the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel through December 23rd. You can get information about the schedule and tickets by calling 317.843.3800 or by logging onto http://www.atistage.org .

  • – Photos by Zach Rosing
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