Theatre Review Print



Cary Players: Phil Grecian's 1940s-Style Radio Drama, It's a Wonderful Life, Captures the Spirit of the

December 14, 2008 - Cary, NC:


When Phil Grecian turned legendary Hollywood director Frank Capra’s Academy Award®-nominated 1946 film, It's a Wonderful Life, into a two-hour 1940s-style radio drama, he provided some juicy roles for community theaters, operating on a shoestring and forced to put on their plays in nontheatrical facilities. The Cary Players' cast devoured the roles in It's a Wonderful Life with great gusto in their provocative Dec. 12-14 production of the show, staged in the Cary Town Hall Council Chambers. Moreover, director Debra Zumbach Grannan and set designer Jon Dietz converted the Council Chambers into a convincing facsimile of a radio broadcast studio.

The melodramatic organ riffs of musical director and keyboard player Craig Johnson, the live commercials for local merchants that leavened the proceedings, and the sound effects of Foley artists David Wolk, Dot Boulia, Carole Kelly, and Angela Lowden also helped the audience feel emotions and “see” settings essential to It’s a Wonderful Life’s Christmas Eve story of a beleaguered Bedford Falls, NY building-and-loan executive who contemplates suicide. Faced with financial ruin and a possible prison term, because of an inexplicable shortage of funds at the financial institution that he runs, normally jovial George Bailey (Wyatt Geist), sourly wishes that he had never been born. Then an eager apprentice angel named Clarence (Mark Anderson), trying to earn his wings, arrives and helps coax George back from the edge of the abyss.

Geist is endearing in the Jimmy Stewart role of George; and Anderson not only plays the enthusiastic angel-in-training with bedrock conviction, but he also makes an indelible impression in the decidedly darker role of Reineman, a sometime henchman of the ruthless businessman Mr. Potter (Phil Crone), who wants to take over the town. Crone makes the resident Grinch of Bedford Falls thoroughly hissable, and Ann Forsthoefel is a ray of sunshine as George Bailey’s devoted wife, Mary, whose faith in him never wavers even when his moods are darker than midnight in a coal mine.

Brady Trax and Davis Benz are terrific as young George and his kid brother Harry, and Pat Berry gives a good account of himself as a radio announcer and George’s frequently inebriated after-school employer, Mr. Gower the pharmacist. Others making the most of their brief moments in the spotlight include Sara Nickerson as Violet the town tramp; Annah Michaux as George Bailey’s mother; Tracy Fulghum as George’s grown-up — war hero — brother Harry; Thom Haynes as the crusty taxi driver Ernie; Chris Brown as George’s father and as Clarence’s angelic overseer Joseph; and Del Flack as George and Harry Bailey’s Uncle Billy, whose absent-mindedness nearly scuttles the family building and loan.