Reviewer: Howard Steven Frydman aka “The Howard”
Production: “It’s A Wonderful Life – A Live Radio Play”
Theater: The Hartford Stage
Playwright: Joe Landry
Directors: Melia Bensussen & Rachel Alderman
The Howard’s Exhale – “I Believe in Angels at Hartford Stage and so Will You!”
The Hartford Stage – Connecticut’s premier theater has done a zig during another zag year, instead of presenting their annual “A Christmas Carol” with the likes of Ebenezer Scrooge and astral aerial spirits, they’ve presented us George Bailey with a celestial Angel in need of his wings. Frank Capra’s classic fantasy film, based on the short story “The Greatest Gift” – “It’s A Wonderful Life – A Live Radio Play” – is joyously presented as a nostalgic “Golden Age” radio recreation with an absolutely stunning cast of actors portraying multiple roles. This lavish Rom/Com is reimagined and adapted for stage by Connecticut Playwright Joe Landry and co-directed by Hartford Stage Artistic Director Melia Bensussen and Harford Stage Artistic Producer Rachel Alderman. The production runs from November 26 through December 25 at Hartford Stage in downtown Hartford.
Firstly, let me state my most cherished moments of past holidays has been spent at the Hartford Stage- I am literally on top of the world with delight at my most recent sojourn– the holidays are simply not the same without our annual visit to the Harford Stage. I don’t’ think I have missed a production of their annual “A Christmas Carol” in over 3 decades- yes it is missed this year and hopefully will return in the next turning of the calendar- yet we are joyous in heart and with gratitude that we are in audience (Mask Adorned) to a live theatrical performance – huzzah!!
“It’s A Wonderful Life – A Live Radio Play” – presented by WBFR Playhouse on the Air (“BFR” a nod to Bedford Falls me thinks)– it’s 1945 and we are in the midst of a live radio production, direct from Hartford, Connecticut, being broadcasted from Boston to Bridgeport. Intermittent Tally lights remind our live audience members that we are “On Air” and when to Applaud, Laugh, Swoon or Cry- true audience participation- an onset Folly artist, period microphones, our radio actors enter, we are welcomed by host Freddie Filmore, a host of semi-famous radio/movie actors make entrance to their allotted microphones, and their premiere of the radio play “It’s a Wonderful Life” – we are truly transformed back to the Golden Age of Radio! Its deliciously retro!
Ah the story – oh so familiar, yet the pleasure is in the retelling, in the immortal words – “how one’s decisions in life can have a far-reaching effect on the lives of others”. Meet George Bailey, a young man, a good man who has helped so many. George has dreams of leaving his small town of Bedford Falls for fame, fortune and adventure– yet at each turn a misadventure has caused George’s dreams to Zig and Zag! It’s Christmas Eve- George is in desperate trouble, his Uncle Billy entrusted to bring funds for bank deposit, has inadvertently given the $8000 from the Bailey Brothers Building and Loan to that dastardly Mr. Potter (Hiss Hiss). The bank examiner is coming, scandal afoot, what to do? George contemplates suicide – the lives of others would be so much better if he had never been born. George needs our help- the prayers of family and friends united reach Heaven who send down Angel 2nd class Clarence Oddboddy – his assignment to save George and the possibility of earning his wings- me thinks I hear bells for Clarence and a reminder to George that no man is a failure who has friends indeed- amen!
Folks, “It’s a Wonderful Life: A live Radio Play” – just like the perennial film classic starring Jimmy Stewart – tugs at your heartstrings – it is simply inspirational– I take note at plays end – several folks are literally wiping away an errant tear here and there and that my friend is a good thing- a smile and cry- exactly what LIVE theater should be achieving!! We are simply enchanted by the “voices” of our radio actors – one could simply close their eyes and still envision the heartwarming tale of George, his love Mary, his children -ah especially little Zuzu, from those crumbling flower petals to the line “teacher says, every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings”! We are humorusly delighted in the on-set musical commercials of not only hair cream and car soap but for that Hartford Hallmark – G. Fox & Co. Department Store- this production has done it right all the way from the bing, bang, boom of the on stage Foley artist (Leer Leary) to its amazing radio cast including: Shirine Babb, Jennifer Bareilles, Gerardo Rodriguez, and Evan Zes – my Howard’s Noticed You Award goes to the simply “Mr. Marvel-ous” Michael Preston – from hat juggling to that “radio voice” of announcer and host Freddie Filmore to the despicable Mr. Potter – you sir are absolutely suburb! An excellent heart pulling performance from all! The Tally light is on – APPLAUD! Enjoy!
“It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” runs Friday, November 26, through Sunday, December 26. Tuesday through Sunday evening performances begin at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday Matinees begin at 2 p.m. Tickets start at $30. For show times and tickets, visit HartfordStage.org/its-a-wonderful-life or contact the Hartford Stage Box Office at 860-527-5151.
To ensure the health and safety of artists, staff, volunteers, and audience members, Hartford Stage has implemented a COVID-19 policy that includes proof of vaccination and masks worn at all times inside the theatre. Up-to-date details of COVID-19 safety measures can be found at hartfordstage.org/covid-19.
Howard Steven Frydman is General Manager and Executive Director of BATV – Channels 5, 95 & 96 and a member of the CCC. Please feel free to contact Mr. Frydman with your thoughts and ideas at TheHoward24@gmail.com.