Actors Guild to perform ‘It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play’
PARKERSBURG — The Actors Guild of Parkersburg will present “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Little Theater at West Virginia University.
Tickets for the show are $10 and are available online at the Actors Guild website.
Directing the show is David Rexroad, a veteran of the Broadway theater and numerous Actors Guild shows. His enthusiasm grows the closer it gets to curtain time.
“I think it’s going to be wonderful, are you kidding,” said Rexroad as he waited for the players to arrive for rehearsal.
The show is based on “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the classic Christmas story about George Bailey. George contemplates committing suicide rather than face ruin when Uncle Billy loses the deposit money for the savings and loan in a newspaper he gave to the evil Henry Potter, who owns most of the town except for George’s savings and loan. Potter keeps the money and pressures a bank examiner to make a surprise visit to see Bailey’s books.
Clarence Odbody, an angel 2nd-class trying to earn his wings, confronts George just before he jumps off a bridge and persuades him not to end his life. George and Clarence go back in time and relive special events in his life, like when he saved his brother Harry from drowning and discovering a deadly error in a prescription.
They return to the present in a time line when George doesn’t exist and the things he did never happened. His brother never saved his fellow soldiers, the pharmacist went to prison and became a drunk, Mary, his wife, never married and didn’t know who George is and Bedford Falls was renamed Pottersville.
George realizes his life has meaning, the original timeline is restored, Clarence earns his wings in Heaven and the people who George helped over the years come to help him with contributions.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” was directed by Frank Capra and starred Jimmy Stewart as George, Donna Reed, who played his wife, Mary, and Henry Travers, who played Clarence. The movie was released in 1946 after the end of World War II.
“It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” will be presented as a readers theater. Actors will read from scripts and sound effects will be used, the way live radio shows were once broadcast.
The sound effects are as integral to the show as the actors, Rexroad said. Effects include doors opening and closing, wind and thunder and the tinkle of angels getting their wings, Rexroad said.
“All kinds of stuff like this,” he said.
The sound effects man is Matthew Paul, who also plays Sam Wainwright, the entrepreneur in George’s hometown, Bedford Falls. Paul, whose brother, Kevin, has the lead role of George, is making his theatrical debut, albeit his lines are few and his primary task is making the sound effects without making any noise in between them.
But he’s up for the task and the hardest part so far has been coordinating the sound of a slap with the readings of the actors, he said.
He got into the show when the original player had to pull out. Brother Kevin took him to a rehearsal, he read for the part and the rest is theatrical history.
Kevin saw the poster for the auditions while he was working at WVU-Parkersburg. He was involved in theater in his teens.
“This is the first major role I’ve gotten,” he said.
Kevin was the natural for George, Rexroad said.
“He gave a really wonderful reading,” Rexroad said.
Rexroad hopes the show becomes a Christmas tradition for the Actors Guild and WVU-Parkersburg, of which the guild and the college previously worked together on a dinner theater and show for Valentine’s Day.
The collaborations are supported by WVU-Parkersburg President Chris Gilmer, who is in the show and plays Clarence. The previous shows have been well received, he said.
“This has been one of the most exciting things we have done since I have been here,” Gilmer said.
Gilmer last performed in theater about 30 years ago. He’s been looking for a reason to get back on stage and Rexroad gave him the opportunity.
“It’s something I wanted to get into for a long time,” he said.
Performers in alphabetical order are:
Susan Courtney as Sadie Vance
Jeff DeWitt as Harry Bailey, George’s brother.
George Faber as Old Man Gower, the pharmacist.
Chris Gilmer as Clarence, George’s guardian angel.
Jane Mancini as Rose Bailey, George’s mother.
Charlie Matthews as Henry Potter, the meanest man in town.
Brent Null as Uncle Billy Bailey.
Joe Oliverio as Joseph, the supervisor of angels.
Paula Oliverio as Violet Bick, the town siren.
Kevin Paul as George Bailey.
Matthew Paul as Sam Wainwright, a successful entrepreneur.
Gary Thompson as Peter Bailey, George’s father.
Lori Ullman as Mary Hatch Bailey, George’s girlfriend and wife.