Front & Center

Front & Center: 12.4.19

it’s a wonderful life
the grandel theatre » through 12/15

A true screen classic never gets old, but sometimes it’s fun to shake things up a bit and turn a favorite story on its ear. Metro Theater Company has done that with It’s A Wonderful Life, John Wolbers’ theatrical retelling of the beloved film, which became a holiday staple after its 1946 release.

The stage show at The Grandel is innovative in a number of ways. The cast doesn’t actually portray Bedford Falls characters like George Bailey; they play people voicing those characters over the airwaves. As the story goes, a ragtag band of radio employees—and a reluctant mailman—pitch in to perform the station’s annual Christmas program when the on-air talent fails to show. The play is set in St. Louis in 1949, a time when families often gathered around their radios for entertainment. This makes it even more meaningful to local audiences, especially those who remember the post-World War II years and have a holiday tradition of watching the film.

Naturally, the cobbled-together radio broadcast is a bit of a free-for-all as script pages fly and everyone improvises. As the story progresses, George tries to interact with other characters and learns what their lives would have been like without him. It’s a lot of fun to see if the brave stand-ins can pull off the show and save the day for the station. Most of them take on more than one role, zipping back and forth between microphones whenever it’s their turn to speak. The station’s sound effects man, known as a Foley artist, claps shoes, bangs miniature doors and stomps on gravel to create an audio backdrop for each scene. Together, the last-minute cast members don’t just tell a Christmas story; they realize their own importance and individuality in the same way George does.

Even theater guests have a role to play. They serve as the live radio station audience, clapping whenever the ‘APPLAUSE’ sign lights up during the broadcast. It’s A Wonderful Life is about an hour long with no intermission, and the take-home message is a positive one, so it’s a good choice for families with children.

Some performances are followed by a Q&A session with cast members, and it’s well worth sticking around and getting to know them. Especially for kids, it’s a fun opportunity to learn about the theatrical process firsthand. I asked the cast if it was challenging to be an actor portraying a non-actor who is pretending to be an actor. They responded very graciously, and I took it as a yes!

upcoming shows »
Wicked | Through Dec. 29
The Broadway sensation returns to The Fabulous Fox Theatre.

Disenchanted | Dec. 5-21
Stray Dog Theatre presents its version of the hit musical at Tower Grove Abbey.

Fully Committed | Dec. 5-22
The New Jewish Theatre production features one
actor playing 45 roles.

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