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A CurtainUp Review
It's a Wonderful Life: The 1946 Live Radio Play

S"trange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. Y'know, George . . you really had a wonderful life.".— Clarence
It's a Wonderful Life
(Left to right: Max Gordon Moore, Katie Fabel and Peter Maloney
(Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)
If you have always had a soft spot for Frank Capra's 1946 holiday classic It's a Wonderful Life, then you should consider dropping by The Irish Repertory Theatre‘s W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre. Anthony E. Palermo has taken the well-known chestnut and retooled it into a live radio play. Although this version doesn't measure up to the original, it does something remarkable: it keeps the beloved film from fading into a cliché. At a brisk 70 minutes, and with 6 actors performing 25 characters, you find yourself riveted to the tale as if it was just minted from Capra's imagination.

You know the story. George Bailey from Bedford Falls, New York has given up his dreams so that he can help others. As time passes, and economic hardships hit home, he contemplates committing suicide on Christmas Eve. The Superintendent of Angels, who sees the tragedy-in-progress, dispatches Clarence, Angel Second Class, to intervene and persuade George to remain among the living. The rest is a poignant reverie through George's life.

Gaps, inevitably, appear in this abbreviated live radio play adaptation. By confining himself to a broad outline of the story, Palermo has pruned away some of the morememorable scenes. He's also caricatured George. But can't really be faulted for this since his intention, after all, is to make the classic film come alive in a refreshingly novel manner. And as directed by ICharlotte Moore' it ends up being a miniature coup de theatre.

There are several commercials peppered throughout the broadcast which are immensely amusing as well as revealing about the 40s. One commercial promotes Lucky Strike cigarettes endorsed by John Wayne. A more family-friendly commercial pitches the latest breakfast cereal. Although these commercials hardly add anything cerebral, they do amplify the mind-set and perspective on families in the mid-twentieth century.

The acting is natural and all the actors project their voices at just the right pitch.. Though James Stewart is indelibly linked to the part of George Bailey, Max Gordon Moore bringsmuch conviction to his personal interpretation of George. The rest of the cast ——Rory Duffy, Katie Fabel, Kristin Griffith, Ian Holcomb, and Peter Maloney — make a good showing in their multiple roles.

Palermo's adaptation of the holiday classic is no mere trifle. It doesn't go as far as the film, but further than one could hope.

Of course, if seeing this little gem makes you yearn for a reisit with the James Stewart original-- you should have no problem catching a re-run on during ther weeks ahead.
It's a Wonderful Life: The 1946 Radio Show
Adapted by Anthony E. Palermo and based on Frank Capra's 1946 film
Directed by Charlotte Moore
Cast: Rory Duffy (SFX Artist, Officer Bert, Dr.Campbell, Sam Wainwright, Mr. Welch, Peter Bailey, Sheriff, Randy), Katie Fabel (Mary Hatch Bailey, Mrs. Davis), Kristin Griffith (Ma Bailey, Ma Hatch, Cousin Tilly, Toll Taker, Bank Teller, Janie Bailey, Zuzu Bailey, Impatient Neighbor, Suzie), Ian Holcomb (Announcer, Superintendent of Angels, Uncle Billy, Harry Bailey, Ernie, Nick, Mr. Carter), Peter Maloney (Clarence, Mr. Potter, Pop Bailey, Gower, Martini), Max Gordon Moore (George Bailey).
Sets: James Morgan
Costumes: David Toser
Sound: Zachary Williamson
Lighting: Michael O'Connor
Stage Manager: Michael Palmer
The Irish Repertory Theatre at 132 W. 22nd Street Tickets: $40. Phone 212/727-2737 or visit
From 12/5/12; opening 12/10/12; closing 12/30/12.
Wednesday@ 3pm and 8pm; Thursday @ 7pm; Friday @ 8pm; Saturday @ 3pm and 8pm; Sunday @ 3pm. No performance on December 25.
Running time: 70 minutes with no intermission
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 12/08/12
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