The Victoria Theatre Association’s presentation of the Human Race Theatre Company’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” provides a delightful throwback to an innocent time of family-friendly entertainment and good old-fashioned vocal versatility.
Breezily adapted by Joe Landry based on the beloved 1946 film of the same name, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a veritable charmer. The familiar, magical, redemptive saga of George Bailey, the suicidal Bedford Falls, New York resident who grows to appreciate and recognize his blessings on Christmas Eve, tugs the heart with earnest sincerity. George’s journey doesn’t supply dramatic sparks to tear-jerking degrees until after intermission but it is well worth the wait. After all, the story’s enduring, multi-generational appeal resonates so beautifully during the holidays because it allows the audience to examine themselves by way of truly meaningful seasonal themes such as benevolence, faith, family, friendship, forgiveness and gratefulness.
Set inside the local WHIO AM studios on Christmas Eve 1946, the play is firmly guided and realized by director Joe Deer with attractive period flair courtesy of scenic designer Dan Gray and costumer Ayn Kaethchen Wood. The radio format is tricky since it demands considerable engagement from its participants to avoid any hint of detachment. Thankfully, Deer keeps his terrifically compatible cast invested in the material even when they leave the microphones to observe the action on various couches. He also allows certain moments to engross and breathe beyond the radio framework.
The amiable Todd Lawson creates a heartfelt, believably conflicted portrayal of George, growing particularly strong in the compelling Act 2 when George’s guardian angel Clarence shows him what his life and his city would be if he had never been born. The tall, lanky, personable Mark Chmiel (a marvelous Cat in the Hat in the Human Race’s “Seussical”) exudes warmth and concern as the lovable Clarence. The remarkably versatile Susan J. Jacks juggles the amusingly sassy diva traits of Lana Sherwood with multiple roles within the action encompassing a range of ages and personalities from George’s friend Violet to his youngest daughter Zuzu. Betsy DiLellio (a component of the outstanding first national tour of “The Light in the Piazza” starring Christine Andreas) is a lovely, gentle presence as George’s devoted wife Mary. Scott Stoney strikes the perfect mood at the outset as soothing announcer Freddie Filmore and brings apt villainy to his secondary role as the cruel Henry Potter. First-rate Wright State University musical theater students Sean Jones, Cassi Mikat, Zack Steele and Amy Wheeler are sunny and skilled as the Jazz Quartet rendering cute jingles. The fantastic Kevin Anderson shines as the Foley Artist responsible for a slew of colorful sound effects from clinking dinnerware to an umbrella evoking bats. Scot Woolley provides proficient music direction.
As an added bonus, be sure to stay after the curtain call for a holiday sing-a-long. Chmiel’s Ray Bolger-esque take on “White Christmas” is a hoot.
“It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” continues through Dec. 15 at the Victoria Theatre, 138 N. Main St., Dayton. Performances are Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Act One: 80 minutes; Act Two: 35 minutes. Tickets are $40-$86. For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com.