“I want to live again!” Mike Shara as George Bailey in MTC’s It’s A Wonderful Life: A Radio Play. – Bruce Monk
The first music video ever broadcast on MTV was for the song Video Killed the Radio Star by The Buggles. It reflected a nostalgia felt for the passing genre of radio and the lost stars whose careers ended with its demise.
MTC’s production of Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life paints a reflective picture of the glory days of radio production, bringing the classic tale of gee-whiz-good-guy George Bailey and his guardian angel to life in the mind’s eye.
Bailey is conveyed with iconic innocence and charm by Toronto-based actor Mike Shara. The audience and the angel follow Bailey’s journey through adolescence, comprising classic moments like the Charleston competition at the school dance with his romantic interest (played by the adorable Mairi Babb), that may seem a little too on-the-nose at times.
Through the magic of radio the audience is able to believably jump ahead many years to find a frustrated George Bailey seemingly stuck in the routine trap of his father’s people-first business, constantly under threat by the devious Mr. Potter.
He learns, with the help of a dozen different characters, the value of community, friendship and the magic of Christmas.
The real star of the production comes in onstage foley artist John Gzowski, who is worth watching on his own. He narrates the scenes with sound by using ordinary objects to portray a Ford Model T, a train station and the crunching of footsteps on hard snow. His technique is so effective, it’s easy to close ones eyes and feel like an old-timey family sittin’ ‘round the “ol’ voice-box.”
Live piano/keyboard accompaniment add the perfect touch of cheesy suspense or upbeat dance music.
This adaptation by Peter Grecian features a cast comprised almost entirely of Winnipeggers and is intimately adapted to identify with our town by cutting to ‘50s style commercial breaks during the production for local companies like Salisbury House and McNally Robinson. The constant nods to Winnipeg will be sure to emotionally involve the audience’s Christmas spirit, despite an uncharacteristic lack of winter weather.
The comedic timing of the actors is impeccable, from the one-liners from the stereotypical aging secretary and tiny tot.
As soon as the red light and “On Air” lights turn on, It’s A Wonderful Life will no doubt leave an impression of nostalgia for simpler times – but through cheesy, corny methods help us realize that personal worth is not always based on cash, doggone it!