When you enter the Maryland Ensemble Theatre in Frederick, Maryland this holiday season to see It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play one is instantly transported to a radio studio back in the 1940s in New York City. The cozy theater transitions quite easily to a radio station studio and with Mr. Freddie Filmore interacting with the audience before the show one will feel like they are in a live studio audience.
Director Joe Brady makes his Maryland Ensemble Theatre (MET) directorial debut with a fun play-within-a-play. He has a talented cast to work with which features three actors making their MET debut: John D’Amato (Mr. Jack Burns), Mike Fox (Mr. Harry Heywood), and Matt Kline (George Bailey).
Set Designer Allison Duvall creates a realistic 1940’s radio studio on the stage. The ‘On AIr’ and ‘Applause!’ light got a workout during the play. Those lights were atop a stand that had the station’s call letters: ‘WMET.’ There were small details added like the red light. The stage also featured some vintage microphones and tables full of items to recreate the sound effects. Allison did more than just create a set – she helped create an atmosphere which was vital to the production’s success.
I enjoyed how Rich Cole playing the announcer – Mr. Freddie Filmore – stayed in character since it made it feel like you were entering a real radio studio. When he gave the ‘housekeeping’ notes prior to the start of the show – it was a hoot! Cole like most of the cast has to play multiple roles in this play. He stood out as Henry F. Potter – George Bailey’s business rival who wanted control the Building and Loan. In contrast to that almost villainous role – he also plays one of George’s kids – Pete Bailey with great humor and drew his He is comical portraying the child drawing his fair share of laughs from the audience.
Matt Kline portrays George Bailey, and delivers a heartfelt, heartwarming and passionate performance that would have made James Stewart proud.He is aptly supported by the sweet and supportive Courtney McLaughlin, who plays his encouraging wife – Mary Hatch Bailey.
I noticed John D’Amato, who plays Mr. Jack Burns – who is responsible for getting the Building and George in trouble – remained in character even during the intermission which added to the feel of being in the radio studio. He also played one of George’s kids and other minor roles.
Mike Fox (Mr. Harry Heywood) delivers an endearing performance as Clarence the Angel who is sent to earn his wings by saving George Bailey. He also plays many other smaller roles that complete the famous Bedford Falls story.
Laura Stark (Miss Lana Sherwood) plays one of the children and some of the vital female roles, while Geoff Huntoon also joins the cast as Mr. Grant Carey, who plays the piano.
The hard-working cast helped to create the remarkable sound effects on stage. They use ordinary things like a pair of shoes, and floppy things to create walking and water sounds, and just about everything in between. It was fascinating and entertaining to watch and listen as the cast performed these special sound effects.
It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play is a real treat if you enjoy radio programs of the past and if you ever wondered how the sound effects you heard on the vintage radio shows were created. Kudos to Sound Designer Steve Younkins for his flawless and work.
Not only did the cast recreate a wonderful holiday story in front of a live audience they also delivered commercial of ‘products’ from the past. The commercials I enjoyed the most were their takes on the Bremel Hair Tonic advertisement and Dux Toilet (cake) Soap. They were so entertaining.
If you love Frank Capra’s classic holiday film of the same name, you will love Maryland Ensemble Theatre’s It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. Take the drive to Frederick and you will be transported to Bedford Falls where you will be filled with the Christmas Spirit. And you will be thrilled by the talented cast and their heartfelt performances. They have all earned their wings.
Running Time: Approximately two hours, with one intermission.
It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play plays through December 30, 2012 at Maryland Ensemble Theatre – 31 West Patrick Street in Frederick, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 694-4744, or purchase them online.