“It’s a Wonderful Life” Gets a New Twist @ Shakespeare & Company [Berkshire on Stage]
Theater review and discussion by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray
Larry Murray: What can be more fitting for the holidays than It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, which is the story of idealistic George Bailey as he considers ending his life one fateful Christmas Eve. Do you agree that Shakespeare & Company captured all the magic of Frank Capra’s classic 1946 holiday film It’s a Wonderful Life in this production?
Gail M. Burns: Darned if I know. I am one of the few adult Americans who has never seen the film all the way through. This iteration, adapted by Joe Landry from the screenplay by Francis Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra, and Jo Swerling, reimagines the story as performed by five stalwart radio actors on a snowy Christmas Eve when the sound effects guy gets stuck in the blizzard and can’t get to the studio. We, the studio audience for the broadcast, get the fun of watching them cope with the emergency and perform all the music and sound effects, as well as the well-worn story of George Bailey.
Larry: Landry didn’t miss a single plot point of the film, and the five actors created the dozens of characters with just their voices. It was astonishing to hear Ryan Winkles change his voice instantly from Clarence the angel (second class) to Bert the cop. He played a dozen roles, as did favorite Jonathan Croy and the amazing Jennie M. Jadow. These chameleons changed accent, tone and cadence from one character to the next like racers taking the hairpin turn on the Mohawk Trail.
Gail: David Joseph and Sarah Jeanette Taylor anchor the story as George Bailey and the woman he marries, Mary Hatch. They also provide much of the charming music, with Taylor on piano and Joseph as the lead vocalist. The whole show, but especially the music, was charming in its simplicity and beauty, with many songs sung virtually a cappella. Joseph plinks out a few notes on the xylophone and Winkles bravely tackles a trombone riff, but Jadow on violin and Taylor on piano provide the melodic lines.