Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Live from Hailey: 'It's a Wonderful Life'

Company of Fools will stage adaptation of classic

Express Staff Writer

Photo by Kirsten Shultz From left to right Keith Joe Dick, Denise Simone, Scott Creighton and Jana Arnold in “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” by playwright Joe Landry with musical direction by R.L. Rowsey.

In its heyday from the 1920s to late 1950s, millions of people gathered around radios as they darned socks, sipped cocktails, smoked, cooked and folded laundry. Radio broadcast more than just news and sporting events. It presented such gems as "Amos and Andy," "Our Miss Brook," "The Green Hornet And Kato" and "Richard Diamond: Private Detective." It was live and it was the voice of America. And like television today, it also supplied actors with great opportunities to work when film and theater jobs were scarce. But radio actors were a special breed. They had voices, with a capital V.

Company of Fools' will put some voices on stage for its holiday production, "It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play" by playwright Joe Landry. It opens Wednesday, Dec. 17, and runs through Sunday, Jan. 4.

Inspired by the classic Frank Capra film, "It's a Wonderful Life," Landry penned an adaptation as a 1940s live radio broadcast in front of a studio audience. The actors perform the dozens of characters in the radio play as well as produce the sound effects.

The story is familiar to anyone who watches television around Christmas. George Bailey (John Glenn) is a great guy with a humdinger of a family in charming Bedford Falls. He always wanted to travel the world but shelved his own dreams for his brother's career as a hotshot pilot in the war. George stayed home, and though happily married, regrets his missed chances.

Now a savings and loan manager, things get a bit out of hand one night for George. In a dark moment he contemplates suicide but is saved at the last moment by an endearing, angel trainee named Clarence (Andrew Alburger) who shows him what life would have been like without him.

"It's a story that everyone loves," Glenn said. "It's nostalgia and it's a clever idea. There's something for everyone."

Directed by Boise-based actress Lynn Alison, the radio show within a play burbles along as each actor switches from role to role.

"It has to be seamless," she said. "Radio is a different genre. How do you tell rather than show, while still playing to the actual audience? We're focused on voice. It's a transition into another world. Part of the joy is getting the mechanics about how to do radio theater with sound affects and the 1940s characters, while they're doing a play. It's a little bit inside, not backstage. There are lots of layers but it has to look flawless. The actors have to be very facile."

Jana Arnold, who plays Rose Bailey and others, said, "It's a delicate balance."

Boise-based actress Kathryn Cherasaro appears as Mary Bailey. Jana Arnold, Scott Creighton, Keith Joe Dick, Denise Simone and Greg Cappel play other roles on sound effects. R.L. Rowsey has created original music, including several period commercials, for the production. Jenn Rush created the wigs and the talented Ann Hoste, on sabbatical from Boise State University's theater department, created the period costumes. K.O. Ogilvie, who recently directed a great production of "Deathtrap" at nexStage Theatre, stage manages.

The deceptively simple set was designed by Joe Lavigne with some subtle new touches.

Because the radio actors play to a live audience, "the entire room becomes the set," Lavigne said. "This theater is already art deco, so I enhanced some colors and made the floor to look like hard tile. We're not denying the space as a real theater."

Like current times, the play takes place during wartime and a tough economy. The movie was released in 1947, and starred Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore among other classic characters actors of the day.

"We had no idea last year when we picked this how perfect it would be," Rowsey said. "We've also made it really affordable for everyone."

Individual ticket prices have been lowered and groups of eight or more are lower. Student rates are $10 and the 10 (seats each) for $10 the night of the show remain one of the valley's best entertainment deals. Opening night of Wednesday, Dec. 17, is, as usual, the Pay What You Feel Preview.

"We're trying to do what we can and still stay in business," Glenn said. "But since 1999 when we first offered those 10 seats for $10, we've never sold them out."

Rowsey takes it further.

"It's a great opportunity for people who never come to the theater. A family of eight could come for $5. If there's a bargain in the valley, that's it. I'd love everyone who can only pay $1 to come that night."

"It's a great period story, period," Glenn said.


Wednesday, Dec. 17, 7 p.m. -- Pay What You Feel Preview

Thursday, Dec. 18, 7 p.m. - Educator Night

Friday, Dec. 19, 26, Jan. 2, 8 p.m. - Educator Night

Saturday, Dec. 20, 27, Jan. 3, 8 p.m.

Sunday, Dec. 21 and 28 and Jan. 4, 3 p.m.

Tuesday, Dec. 23 and 30, 7 p.m.

Wednesday, Dec. 24 and 31, 3 p.m.

Box Office: 578-9122

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