by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
The month of December has always been the holiday show for the Alhambra and for twenty four years it was an original musical version of the classic Christmas Carole. Now, old Ebenezer Scrooge has been given the year off; he may be back next year. In its place, the Alhambra has brought It’s a Wonderful Life, that wonderful Christmas movie classic, to its stage. Winner of Best picture in 1946, the film has become a Christmas tradition on television. The story was adapted into a play 1993, and that version has been on stage twice in Jacksonville, at Jacksonville University and at Players by the Sea.
The Alhambra, under the direction of Tod Booth is presenting a radio play version adapted by American Theatre Company. This play will be an education for you, regardless of your age. If you are old enough to remember radio drama such as Lux Radio Theatre, you will know how it sounds. The Alhambra will show you how it was done.
In case you’ve forgotten, or never seen the movie or play, the very simple plot is the sentimental tale of George Bailey, who gave up his dreams of college, world travel, and wealth to help others in the small town where he was born; he is certain he has failed and is ready to end his life. Clarence, a second-class guardian angel hoping to gain higher status, arrives to dissuade him by showing him how valuable his life has been to others.
The play opens at a very realistic looking radio station, where the announcer played by JD Sutton, who also plays eleven other roles, introduces the production to the studio audience, coaching them in appropriate behavior. The station has an authentic look, with old style microphones, On-Air signs, clocks showing the time in various parts of the world, a pianist (Laura Peden) and even a sound effects man (Earlye Rhodes). Rhodes is center stage and a wonder to watch the entire evening as he recreates people walking, doors opening, the wind howling, and many, many other special effects. The show even has its own commercials, for Bromo-Seltzer, Brylcreem, and Nescafe, that are interspersed throughout the script.
Costume Designer Lee Hamby’s creations added to period authenticity. For example, men wore suits with ties, while women also dressed conservatively and wore hats, with most of the costumes in solid neutral colors.
A total of nine performers perform the forty-five plus roles. Like their counterparts of yesteryear, the actors carry scripts, and use a lot of vocal variety and accents to make each character seem like a real person right there in the studio.
Michelle Myers plays the two most important women in George Bailey’s life, his mother and his wife. Local native Matt Burke, who has been all over the country performing in Shakespeare’s plays, has nine roles, most notably as younger brother Harry.
Alhambra regular Tony Triano with nine roles was at his best as Clarence, the friendly gentle angel trying to earn his wings, and the heartless old banker, Mr. Potter.
Joseph Parra, who was last on stage at the Alhambra in 1999 in Love, Sex, and the IRS, plays four roles; our favorite of those was Uncle Billy.
Another Alhambra veteran Patty Eyler, doing nine roles ranging from small children to old women, was up to the challenge of making each significant to the audience.
The leading man, playing George Bailey, is Ryan Reilly. Mr. Reilly can most often be found on the stage singing leading roles as he did at the Alhambra in Footloose, Cabaret, Damn Yankees, and Cinderella. Ryan does a wonderful job of displaying the emotional ups and down of an idealistic dreamer. The role is closely tied to actor Jimmy Stewart; probably the reason the movie remains an all-time favorite. Mr. Ryan does a very pleasant modified imitation of Stewart. This is particularity noticeable if you close your eyes when he is speaking. Yes, by golly, you will conjure up an image of old Jimmy himself!!
It is an interesting evening of theatre and the public response to this show has already been excellent, so make your reservations quickly, as the show goes away at Christmas.