Live from It’s a Wonderful Life (photos by: Mary Rickard)
Long before The Terminator, Monsters and Avatar, people listened to live broadcast radio plays read by top-notch actors, and with manually operated sound effects. Radio dramas required only their audience’s imaginations to fully bring stories to life. Families would gather around the radio console, captivated by stirring episodes of Hopalong Cassidy and Escape: Three Skeleton Key, for example.
During this season, NOLA Voice Talent Foundation has revived the heartwarming 1946 holiday classic– starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed–It’s a Wonderful Life. It is read aloud by semi-professional members of a weekly voiceover workshop led by British voice coach Stephen James. The show is performed before audiences and broadcast over the radio to an audience of seven million. Since 2009, NOLA Voice Talent Foundation has annually produced the vintage, holiday treat as a fundraiser to support performing talent.
On Saturday night at The Valiant Theater, 17 actors read the script–adapted for radio by Vatican Lokey–of the much beloved movie about a disillusioned savings and loan manager considering suicide on Christmas Eve. His dreams unfulfilled, George Bailey (William “Bill” Lee) believes his life has been in vain; yet, he is shown otherwise. The American Film Institute lists It’s a Wonderful Life as one the all-time best 100 U.S. films.
You can listen online to actual recordings of NOLA Voice Talent’s weekend performances for a modest $3 donation here.
Actors taking the mic for It’s a Wonderful Life (photos by: Mary Rickard)
With the speakers on, close your eyes and imagine the working-class community of Bedford Falls where everyone knows one other and depends on the goodwill and integrity of a savings and loan bank to rise above a mundane existence. Ernest Robertson, the resonant voice of New Orleans Live, narrates. Greedy capitalist Henry Potter (Paul “Big Daddy” Eubanks), wearing a stovepipe hat and pinstriped suit, schemes and seizes every opportunity to undermine the bank’s solvency and force homeowners back into his slum housing.
The play begins with Bedford Falls residents stepping to the microphones to pray aloud for Bailey. Their entreaties reach all the way to heaven and Clarence (Stephen James), a 2nd class angel, is assigned to help George take a new perspective on life. Lee is an amazing Bailey, channeling Stewart’s wholesome, gee-whiz personality and his effusive manner of speaking. Though he’d hoped to travel the world before entering college, Bailey’s plans are cut short, first by his father’s untimely death and then by a 1932 run on the bank. At a high school dance, he falls for the winsome Mary Hatch (Lorraine LeBlanc), quickly marries, starts a family, and takes charge of the bank.
“This town needs this penny-ante institution,” he says.
We all know the story. Clarence helps Bailey realize how invaluable his life has been. In return, the ambitious angel earns his promotion and a set of wings. Through the story, we meet the pharmacist Mr. Gower (Jack Quarles) whose reputation was saved by Bailey’s quick-wittedness; Violet Bick (Lori McWhorter), who got a fresh start in a respectable career in New York; and the cab driver Ernie (George Trahanis) who held onto his house despite difficulties paying the mortgage. Of course, by rescuing Bailey, Mary is saved from spinsterhood and his children Janey (Aeryn Dixon), Zuzy (Hrilina Ramrakhiani) and Petey (Ronnie Tucker) can be born.
Breaking glass, chirping crickets, slamming doors, and the passage of time meted by a metronome are controlled by sound engineer Ronni Brant and foley operators Gabrielle Richard and Tangeline Tucker under director Marsha Preston.
Absent scenery, props, costumes, orchestra and blocking, and focused only on dialogue and sentiment, this delightfully charming production has a timeless message that still brings tears to the eye.