Every year about this season some theatre company present “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” which is based on the Frank Capra film of 1945. WMTC, a Manhattan radio station, is presenting on Christmas Eve 1946 an adaption of the classic film that starred Jimmy Steward, Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore.
Watching this excellent production that featured five gifted actors it brought back memories of the 1950’s “radio plays” that I saw in the Hollywood area. The major movie studios would present studio contract players to do radio adaptations of movies. The major one was the “Lux Radio Theatre” on Monday nights.

A little of the history of this particular radio play if I may. About 20 years ago, Frances Kondziela, a longtime friend and teacher asked playwright Joe Landry to pen an adaption of the iconic play for her high school ensemble. After the high school premiere, TheatreWorks of New Milford, Connecticut, staged a full production at the Westport County Playhouse. Since then many regional companies have presented this holiday classic to appreciative audiences and their families.

The story is as familiar and comfortable as a pair of old pajamas. The cast performs with scripts in hand in front of old fashioned silver microphones with a large Christmas tree off to the left side of the stage. The audience sees on how a radio show is produced with various props for sound effects that are handled by the actors and two signs overhead that say “Applause” and light up at the appropriate times. The fourth wall is virtually disregarded and a certain intimacy between the actors and the audience is inevitably forged.

Aaron Murphy plays George Bailey the Jimmy Stewart role in this play. He has an engaging presence playing the “good guy”. Joseph Kearns is exceptional playing the “bad guy” Potter along with Uncle Billy and various other characters. Justin Gillman is splendid in all of his characterizations that included Harry and young Harry, Clarence and Dr. Campbell. Hanna Finn does a fine job on her portrayals of Mary Hatch and young Mary. Rounding out the cast is Hillary Hesse who strikingly preforms over ten characters.

“It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” plays through December 28 at the Tides Theatre, 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-399-1322 or on line at www.tidestheatre.org