When audience members walk out of Capital Repertory Theatre's production of "It's a Wonderful Life: Live from WVL Radio Theatre" over the next four weeks, George Bailey and Bedford Falls will still be the stars of the show.
Adapted from the 1947 movie by Frank Capra starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, this theatrical production is still focused on the original story, and it is that theme that shines brightest. This version, however, places the show back on a wintery night in a 1940s radio station where four actors put on a performance portraying all the characters as well as handling all the sound effects.
"The main story, Capra's story about George Bailey and Bedford Falls, is still that story and continues to be the main focus of the production," said Margaret Hall, who is directing the Capital Rep version, which begins with previews Friday night, opens Tuesday, Nov. 26, and runs through Dec. 22. "There is another story about the radio actors struggling to put on the show on a wintry night, and the station is very much like the Building and Loan in Bedford Falls. It's a staple of the community, it's been around forever, and it would be so sad to see it go out of business. But the focus is still about George falling in love with Mary and meeting Clarence. It's the same story everyone knows."
The idea of doing "It's a Wonderful Life" as a radio show isn't new. Even Stewart and Reed, two of Hollywood's biggest stars, performed the show on radio on three different occasions following the movie's release. There were a number of other theatrical productions after the movie came out, but it wasn't until 1997 when Joe Landry came up with the idea of making a show within a show, adding the element of radio performers putting on a production in difficult circumstances. The script for the show that Capital Rep is doing uses Landry's idea of adding the radio performance element, but was written in 2014 by actor/playwright Willie Repoley for the Immediate Theatre Project in Asheville, North Carolina.
Hall, who grew up south of Albany in Greenville, has seen the Live Radio version on a couple of occasions, and is also a big fan of the 1947 film.
"I watch 'It's a Wonderful Life' and 'White Christmas' every year," she said. "They are my two staples during the holiday season. I can remember watching them in my childhood with my mom and my grandparents.
"This version of 'A Wonderful Life'" continued Hall, "is about people rallying together during the golden age of radio and working under an extremely unique set of circumstances for something they believe in. It's about giving hope to people, and realizing all the good you can do for people. It's a story we need to hear in today's world. Everyone in today's world can appreciate the message."
In the "WVL Radio Threatre" version, New York City-based actor Carl Howell plays Lee Wright, the guy who had been in charge of sound effects, but in a pinch takes on the roles of George Bailey, Harry Bailey and Joseph the Angel. Elizabeth Nestlerode plays Evelyn Reed, the station owner's daughter who plays Mary as well as three other characters. Also playing multiple roles are fellow New York City-based actors Wynn Harmon and Laurie Wells. In the Capital Rep version, also on stage at times is musical director Josh Smith.
"Our cast is incredible," said Hall, who has worked at Capital Rep in a variety of positions since 2011 and is currently Associate Artistic Director. "It's such great fun to have Wynn back, and we're excited about working with Carl, Elizabeth and Laurie for the first time. The subplot adds to the fun romance, but it makes a beautiful contrast to the most poignant points of the original script. Everything you love about 'It's a Wonderful Life' is intact, but you get so much more."
Along with directing Capital Rep's touring show production for schools the last seven years, Hall has also directed two prior main stage productions, "The Iliad" in 2017 and "Red Maple" last year. She got her degree in theater arts at SUNY-New Paltz and then went on to get her masters at the University of Essex in London.
A number of special events will be held throughout the show's run, including a post-show discussion with Capital Rep Producing Artistic Director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill on Wednesday, Dec. 11.
'It's a Wonderful Life: Life from WVL Radio Theatre'
WHERE: Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 South Pearl, Albany
WHEN: Previews begin Friday and run through Sunday; show opens Tuesday, Nov. 26 and runs through Dec. 22; performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and matinees at 3 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday and 2 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 4
HOW MUCH: $67.50-$27
MORE INFO: Visit www.capitalrep.org or call (518) 445-7469