Christmas is without doubt a time of tradition. Families have their time-honored holiday meal, or a special star that absolutely must glitter atop the tree. For many, watching "It's a Wonderful Life" is as essential to their celebration as midnight Mass.
Joe Landry's stage adaptation of the 1946 film is this year's holiday offering from Orlando Shakespeare Theater. The story is told by a group of actors presenting a radio drama in the '40s. Scripts in hand, actors read the familiar lines at microphones while a sound-effects man creates the illusion of ice cracking or people walking. Oh, and every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.
As directed by Robert Cacioppo, "It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play" rolls along like a well-oiled machine. Familiar line follows familiar line. Seen at a preview Thursday, Landry's adaptation faithfully glides from one movie scene, er plot point, to the next: During a crisis, angel (second class) Clarence shows nice guy George Bailey how much worse off his loved ones would have been if he had never been born.
Many of the actors play multiple characters from the film, and it is fun to hear them change accent, tone and cadence to switch from one to the next on a dime. But once that novelty has been experienced — and the actors uniformly do a masterful job — there aren't any more surprises to come.
Well, actually there were two surprises for me. The first was when the faux radio station's singers suddenly donned cute bunch-of-bananas hats to warble an advertisement for Chiquita. (Other advertisers include hair cream and laxative companies, Pepsi and the old "See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet" jingle.)
The second surprise was bigger: The ending — hearing "No man is a failure who has friends" for the umpteenth time — made me a bit misty-eyed.
A Christmas miracle? To reference another seasonal classic, had my heart grown three sizes that day?
Well, it's more likely that I was won over by the charm and enthusiasm of the acting company — David Edwards, Duke Lafoon, Suzanne O'Donnell, Brad DePlanche and Piper Rae Patterson. And let's not underestimate the power of that story, which incorporates nice guy vs. rich creep, power for the underdog, the love of your family and the hope that choosing to do the right thing in some way makes a difference in the world.
Even if "It's A Wonderful Life" never finds new ways to thrill as a radio play, it can still quietly warm the heart of theatergoers from age 8 to 28 to 58 to 88. And maybe in this season of family and tradition, that's enough.
'It's a Wonderful Life'
• What: An Orlando Shakespeare Theater production of the radio play by Joe Landry
• Length: 1:55, including intermission
• Where: Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 E. Rollins St., Orlando
• When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Dec. 29.
• Tickets: $17-$40; a special $20-under-30 night for patrons younger than 30 is on Friday, Dec. 13
• Call: 407-447-1700
• Online: orlandoshakes.orgCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun