REVIEW: It’s a Wonderful Life: the Radio Play (ATC)

  
  

A Christmas window to an American past

  
  

Chrisopher McLinden, MaryWinn Heider - Its A Wonderful Life Radio Play - ATC Chicago

  
American Theater Company presents
  
It’s a Wonderful Life: the Radio Play
  
Adapted by Joe Landry
Directed by
Jason W. Gerace
at
American Theater Company, 1909 W. Byron (map)
through Dec 26  | 
tickets: $35-$40  |  more info 

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

There is something warm and centering about American Theater Company’s perennial holiday offering, It’s a Wonderful Life: the Radio Play. Tom Burch’s scenic design, a variety of warm wood tones set with holiday greenery, grounds the production in its vision of a solid, comforting past. Likewise, Katherine Stebbins’ late 40’s period costumes render a satisfying illusion of our parents or grandparents in their heyday—the ladies’ perfect period hair and makeup set off with bold poinsettia corsages; the men in period suits and sweaters, sporting red and white carnation buttonholers. Just sitting in the cast’s presence can feel as reassuring as Dad’s hand on your shoulder or Mom asking how your day went.

Joseph Anthony Foronda and Alan Wilder - Its A Wonderful Life Radio Play - ATC ChicagoDirected by Jason W. Gerace, one can slip as easily into the performance as into an old pair of slippers and that might be part of the problem. ATC’s cast has a lot of comfort to give and their meticulous, professional execution of an American classic unquestionably impresses. However, the production also has the tendency to oversell its stabilizing comfort and forget the dramatic verve that drove Frank Capra’s original creation. Thankfully, there are some things here that are even better than Capra’s iconic movie: Christopher McLinden and Mary Winn Heider produce much stronger romantic chemistry between George Bailey and Mary Hatch than Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed did; somehow the confrontation scenes between George and Mr. Potter (Alan Wilder) more potently expose Potter’s amoral duplicity.

But for the most part, the cast could kick up the energy just a notch. Most take on multiple roles and sometimes character distinctiveness gets lost in the mishmash–Frank Capra’s direction excelled in making each character’s personality stand out uniquely. Of course, there are notable exceptions. Steppenwolf stalwart Alan Wilder practically channels the ghost of Lionel Barrymore with his dead-on imitation of Mr. Potter. Joseph Anthony Foronda backs up the production solidly with his portrayals of George’s father, Uncle Billy and Joseph.

But the production offers something more than just a nostalgic replay of Frank Capra’s iconic film; it offers a communal reminder of the way we were—and might still be—at the height of historic uncertainty over what America is or where we are going. The dialogue still delivers the best critique of capitalism in the American dramatic canon. As a humorous anachronistic touch, though, Chris Amos entertainingly plugs neighborhood businesses. Just as in the old days the advertising is interspersed throughout the story. Promoting businesses that sell vegan treats certainly brings us back to the present—it is, after all, about paying the bills.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

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REVIEW: It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play (NobleFool)

  
  

If you love the movie, you’ll adore the play

  
  

George Keating, Emily Leahy, and Anna Hammonds

   
   
Noble Fool Theatricals presents
    
It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play
        

Adapted by
Joe Landry
from screenplay by
Goodrich, Hackett, Capra, Swerling
Directed by Rachel Rockwell
Pheasant Run Resort, 4051 E. Main, St. Charles (map)
Through Dec. 26  | 
tickets: $29.50–39.50  |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Frank Capra’s 1946 film, "It’s a Wonderful Life," starring James Stewart, tends to provoke extremes of reaction.

Like the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play offers upbeat, family-friendly Christmas entertainment, in which you can count on a happy ending. If you adore the original, you’ll likely feel the same about the perfectly sweet production at Noble Fool Theatricals in St. Charles. If the movie gives you the bah humbugs, nothing about this live version — which, if anything, amps up the cuteness — will change your mind.

(From left) Jessie Fisher, George Keating and Anna HammondsOf course, there’s no suspense left whatsoever. Except for his one lapse into despair, George remains saintly and forbearing; Mr. Potter remains money-grubbing and evil-minded; and Angel Second Class Clarence still twinkles.

This 1996 stage adaptation by Joe Landry frames the story of small-town do-gooder George Bailey as a 1940s radio show, replacing the movie’s dozens of characters with a cast of five. They portray radio actors performing a Christmas Eve broadcast of "It’s a Wonderful Life" before a live audience.

New fun comes in the logistics of the radio performance on Kevin Depinet’s convincing stage set and the versatility of the actors. Director Rachel Rockwell has assembled a talented cast, who sing such songs as "Button Up Your Overcoat" and "Merry American Christmas" along with performing the play within the play.

Jack Sweeney doubles as sound-effects man and actor, rushing back and forth with earnest fervor. George Keating, as the lead actor portraying George Bailey, offers a resemblance to Stewart with a less laconic style. Dev Kennedy plays the slightly irascible station manager and a variety of voice parts with verve.  Anna Hammonds and Jessie Fisher give freshness to the female roles. Tom Clear ably plays multiple roles, including Clarence, as well as accompanying beautifully on piano, a highlight of the show.

Rockwell’s production shifts the frame’s setting from Manhattan to Chicago and heightens the cuteness factor with some youthful additions, including a schoolgirl singing ensemble with their teacher (Laura Eilers). Two alternating groups of adorable little girls sing a holiday song and stand in as the Bailey children (Emily Leahy, Kelsey Pettrone, Rebecca Roy, Marie Turner and Melissa Wickland and Leikyn Bravo, Megan Graal, Amelia Kuhlman, Annamaire Schutt and Madysen Simanonis).

This production also gives the soundman a young nephew. Stirling Joyner is appealing, but the role doesn’t add much to the plot. The local adaptation also adds some straightforward commercials for Fox Valley businesses to Landry’s comic, period-style advertisements for hair tonic and soap.

 

From left) Jessie Fisher, George Keating and Anna Hammonds (From left) Jessie Fisher, Dev Kennedy, Anna Hammonds and George Keating

Based on Phillip Van Doren Stern’s short story, "The Greatest Gift," Capra’s idealistic film about how one man can make a difference and goodwill can triumph over material wealth was not a great critical or box-office success at its premiere. The New Yorker described the movie as "so mincing as to border on baby talk," and it drew only $3.3 million in ticket sales, $8 million less than "The Best Years of Our Lives," released at the same time. Only after the Capra film’s copyright lapsed in the 1970s and it began to get annual showings on television did it became a favorite holiday tradition, perhaps because, as it aged, it touched viewers’ nostalgic yearning for a period when people’s motivations seemed black and white — whereas its contemporary audiences knew no such time existed.

"It’s a Wonderful Life" is a fantasy, and not just because of the angel. If that’s your taste in Christmas entertainment, you’ll enjoy it.

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

Anna Hammonds and George Keating 

     
     

Noble Fool Theatre changes name, announces new season

 

 

Artistic Director John Gawlik shares his thoughts on name change

 

Noble Fool Theatricals, the well-established professional theater in the Fox Valley area, has announced a new direction for their nonprofit organization. Beginning their calendar year season in January 2011, Noble Fool will become Fox Valley Repertory; a name that represents the community they have grown their mission, vision, patron base, and academy students around.

I assure you that you can still count on outstanding productions because we are not a new organization. Our staff is the same, dedicated team,” says Artistic Director John Gawlik. “But after several years of growth, we simply wanted our name to represent the strong bond we have created with our patrons and community. We know this will help our patrons connect with our stories and begin referencing us as ‘our theater’ even more.”

As the nonprofit theater company in residence at Pheasant Run Resort for the seventh year, “we are focused on creating an engaging theater experience by producing shows that inspire our community to laugh, reflect and reconnect to moments in one’s life,” says Artistic Director John Gawlik. A major portion of their commitment is through arts education, as they continue their task of inspiring youth to explore their own lives through the performing arts.

For Fox Valley Repertory’s 2011 season, Gawlik has programmed an exciting season with some of the top and emerging directors in Chicago.

To celebrate our new vision and name, we are offering the best subscription rates and benefits in the area,” says Gawlik. “Our 4-show packages are heavily discounted at $65 and $80 per person. We’re hoping the Fox Valley area will join us with this great introductory price. Our number of subscribers has grown tremendously in the last two years, and we hope this continues.”


Fox Valley Repertory’s 2011 Season

 

January 20 – March 13, 2011

Leaving Iowa

The Comedy About Family Vacations

By Tim Clue and Spike Manton
Directed by Rachel Rockwell; named Chicago Magazine’s Director of the Year (2010).

   
  Middle-aged writer Don Browning is searching for the perfect spot to scatter his father’s ashes. As he travels the paths his family took on their annual vacations, images of his father and the shared family tortures surround his memories. This homegrown comedy will have you revisiting your fond (and not-so-fond) memories of your youth.
   
   

March 24 – May 15, 2011

Always, Patsy Cline

‘The Sweetest Musical This Side of Heaven’

Directed by John Gawlik; director of The Gift Theatre’s The Ruby Sunrise, named one of the Top Ten shows of 2009 by TimeOut Chicago Magazine 

   
  More than just a tribute to the late legendary country singer, this Off-Broadway musical recounts Cline’s true friendship with a fan from Houston, whom she befriended at a Texas honky tonk and remained pen pals with until her early death. Complete with down home country humor and true emotion, this 1960s tribute includes many of Patsy’ unforgettable hits such as Crazy, I Fall to Pieces, Sweet Dreams and Waking
After Midnight. Rating: PG
   
   

June 9 – July 31, 2011

Around the World in 80 Days

A Classic Adventure Comedy

Written for the stage by Mark Brown, from the novel by Jules Verne

Directed by John Gawlik 

   
  Based on Jules Verne’s classic novel, join fearless adventurer Phileas Fogg as he sets out to circle the globe in an unheard-of 80 days. It’s a race against the clock as he contends stampeding elephants, raging typhoons, bandits, and a detective who thinks he’s a robber on the run. Danger, romance, and comic surprises abound in this whirlwind of a show as five actors portray 39 characters in seven continents.
   
   

August 18 – October 9, 2011

They’re Playing Our Song

Book by Neil Simon; Music by Marvin Hamlisch; Lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager

Directed by Jonathan Berry, hailed as “one of Chicago’s most talented young directors” by Chicago Tribune. 

   
  When an award-winning, straight-laced composer teams up with a quirky, aspiring lyricist, it’s far from a match made in musical heaven. But when an unexpected romance builds between them, they hilariously struggle to find harmony. Based on the real life love story of Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager, Neil Simon’s romantic musical will leave a smile on your face and a song in your heart. Rating: PG
   
   

July 7 – August 7, 2011

Bad Dates

A Woman’s Quest for Love and the Perfect Pair of Shoes

By Theresa Rebeck

Directed by Kimberly Senior, one of Chicago’s most acclaimed directors. 

   
  If you like “Sex and the City” and Bridget Jones’ Diary, you’ll love this romantic one-woman comedy! Single mom and Texas transplant Haley Walker tries to balance the pressures of her new NYC restaurant career, raising a moody teenage daughter, and the too-close-for-comfort relationship with the Romanian mob, all while trying to find her way back into the dating scene…nothing that a great pair of shoes couldn’t fix! Haley needs your shoulder to cry and laugh on as she shares her dating adventures with you.
   
   

Collider 2011: New Play Project

A new play program partnering local scientists and Fox Valley Repertory in developing new works that help us better understand the universe and who we are, while illuminating and celebrating the worlds of art, science and technology.

Big Bang Ten Minute Plays

World premier ten minute plays will be performed during the Fox Valley Rep Summer Arts Fest.

Other Fox Valley Repertory Productions

 

October 14 – 30, 2011

The Woman in Black

A Spine-Chilling Tale

Special Halloween Eve Performance on Sunday, October 30 @ 7pm!

By Stephen Malatratt.  Based on the novel by Susan Hill

   
  A London lawyer hires an actor to help recount a story to family and friends that has long troubled him since he attended the funeral of an elderly recluse. During the reenactment, you’ll be gripping your seats with a chill down your spine as you experience the horror and terror of this haunting tale. We just hope you’ll live to retell the tale of one of the longest-running suspense thrillers in history. Rating: PG-13
   
   

November 10 – December 24, 2011

It’s a Wonderful Life

A Live Radio Play 

   
  Inspired by Frank Capra’s beloved American holiday classic, you’ll become a part of a 1940s live broadcast as actors bring the fateful story of George Bailey to life. As a studio audience member, you’ll relive the beloved tale of regret and redemption complete with classic holiday songs, a six member Children’s choir, instruments, man-made sound effects, and live commercials.
   
   

Other Performances

In addition to these performances, Fox Valley Repertory will be producing five youth ensemble musical performances, four holiday productions, and presenting six live music events and four national comedy touring acts – together, totaling to 251 performances during the 2011 season.

Ticket Information

Pheasant Run Resort is located at 4051 E. Main St., St. Charles, IL. Season subscriptions start at $65 for show only tickets (discounted dinner-show subscriptions also available) and are currently available by calling call the Box Office at 630-584-6342. Full priced single tickets for each production will go on sale at a later date.

Additional information on the 2011 Season and Noble Fool Theatricals soon-to-be Fox Valley Repertory are available at http://www.noblefool.org or www.foxvalleyrep.org.