ALBANY, N.Y.—NOV. 6, 2019—The everlasting holiday tale of George Bailey and Bedford Falls—Zuzu’s petals, Clarence’s bell, Gower’s gaffe … You know it, you love it, but you’ve never experienced Frank Capra’s Christmas magic quite like this.
It’s A Wonderful Life: Live from WVL Radio Theatre is fast, funny, heartwarming and true.
The show, popular in the region from annual performances at Proctors, takes the holiday post in a new, updated production at Capital Repertory Theatre, Nov. 22–Dec. 22.
It’s Christmas Eve, and a blizzard is blowing, keeping even the hardiest off the roads, with families hugging close to their Philco Cathedral radios.
It’s the 1940s, post-Depression America, and struggling radio station WVL is nearly empty. Only a few staffers have been able to beat the snow, and they’re dug in ‘til the bitter end—with a show to get on the air despite the wintry weather.
“It’s a hoot,” says the REP’s Associate Artistic Director Margaret E. Hall, who is helming the show. “It offers an entirely new perspective on a beloved classic, allowing us to see it with new eyes and be moved all over again.”
A squalled-in quintet is left to save the day, and the station, by staging a radio play of the Capra classic, despite the fact that half of them have never acted on the airwaves.
Lee Wright (Carl Howell) aspires to the craft, sure, but until now he’s been sticking with sound effects, and as Foley artist, he brings Bedford Falls to sonic life for the shivering listeners of WVL.
He’s keen on the station owner’s daughter Evelyn Reed (Elizabeth Nestlerode), who’s not keen on being live on the radio, especially under the circumstances.
Then there’s Mays (Wynn Harmon), who puts the ham in radio. He’s been a character actor forever, and his favorite role is keeping mum about his relationship with fellow thespian Kitty Dayle (Laurie Wells).
“The subplot adds to the fun romance,” says Hall, “but it makes a beautiful contrast to the most poignant points of the original script.”
No one save Josh D. Smith plays fewer than four characters, often with voices collapsing on top of one another other. And, yes, the whole town is here, from Martini and Hee-Haw Sam Wainwright to grumpy Potter and hapless Uncle Billy.
“Everything you love about It’s a Wonderful Life is intact,” says Hall, “but you get so much more.”
“Our cast is incredible. It’s such great fun to have Wynn back on the boards on Pearl Street; he’s been an important participant in our original school shows, and was dazzling in Race. And we’re excited about working with Carl, Elizabeth and Laurie for the first time. And folks will be fascinated by the onstage Foley. It’s mesmerizing, particularly if you’ve never seen live sound effects.”
Artistic Associate Smith serves as music director for It’s a Wonderful Life, also playing the elusive, supremely laconic role of offstage organist Mr. Shirley. He is accompanied by bassist Harry Lumb.
Fellow Artistic Associate Freddy Ramirez choreographs the show, and he and Smith are joined on the creative team by Lighting Designer Rob Denton, Costume Designer Evan Prizant, Scenic Designer David McQuillen Robertson and veteran Sound Designer Rider Q. Stanton.
Harmon has been seen at theREP in Dr. Faustus, Taming of The Shrew, Race and Pure Poe. He played Broadway in Porgy and Bess and has extensive regional credits, including The Kennedy Center, Arena Stage, Hartford Stage, The Alley, American Conservatory Theatre and others.
Howell appeared in the first national tour of Peter and the Starcatcher, directed by the late Roger Rees, and has appeared locally with Syracuse Stage and Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival.
The film version of It’s A Wonderful Life was a staple throughout Nestlerode’s childhood. In addition to work off-Broadway, she has acted regionally with directors Brian Yorkey and Tommy Tune and has been seen on The Late Show with David Letterman.
Wells is a veteran of Broadway and touring companies for Mamma Mia!; has extensive regional credits; and has sung internationally at venues like the Grand Ole Opry, Tokyo’s Orchard Hall and on Princess Cruise Lines.
Previews for It’s A Wonderful Life: Live from WVL Radio Theatre take place Nov. 22–24. Opening night is Tuesday, Nov. 26. Regular performances continue through Sunday, Dec. 22. Performance times: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday—with matinees 3 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday; and 2 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 4 Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 N. Pearl Street, Albany. Tickets range from $27–$67.50. Students with valid ID: $16 all shows. For tickets and information, call Tickets by Proctors, 518.445.SHOW (7469) or visit capitalrep.org.
Opening night features complimentary post-show champagne and dessert from Bella Napoli Bakery.
Special events include:
6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 3—Chef’s Table Night includes complimentary light fare for ticketholders, provided by Olde English Pub.
3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7—American Sign Language-interpreted show. To secure the best seats for visibility of the signers, please call the Box Office.
Wednesday, Dec. 11—Following the performance, enjoy a Post-Show Discussion with Producing Artistic Director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill and the cast of It’s A Wonderful Life.
6:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 12—Thirsty Thursday, with complimentary samples for ticketholders from Albany Distilling Company, Inc. and Nine Pin Cider, with light bites from Ama Cocina.
1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 15—Behind-the-Scenes pre-matinee discussion with Producing Artistic Director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill, featuring light pre-show snacks for ticketholders at 12:30 p.m.