If you feel like curling up with a Christmas classic this holiday season, then It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play at the Chemainus Theatre is for you.
This is the story so many have come to love about a man who finds hope again when all is almost lost on Christmas Eve, made famous in the 1946 film. But this isn’t just a recreation.
This production is set as a radio play, with the audience playing the role of a live studio audience at the radio station, WBFR in Manhattan, New York. This clever bit of staging allows for the small cast to seamlessly portray the full tale with all of its emotional punch while adding some humorous elements to the original and beloved story.
Kaden Forsberg takes on the role of George Bailey, or rather the radio actor playing George. He ably carries the show. Forsberg appears effortless in his portrayal of the boy who always wanted to leave his hometown of Bedford Falls to explore the world and earn fame and fortune, but instead, hit by seemingly bad luck at every turn, led a quiet, ordinary life full of everyday joys and frustrations. This, in contrast to his brother Harry, who is set to return to town triumphant after earning a Congressional Medal of Honor for his service in the Second World War.
The plot hinges on George discovering just how much he has impacted the lives of the people around him — how much he’s meant in this world — when he makes a wish as he faces the loss of his business and possibly even jail after a calamitous mistake by his uncle. Forsberg takes us along for the ride as George goes from a boy with big dreams to the man who is granted the chance to see what life would be like if he’d never been born. He is charming, likeable, and has great chemistry with the rest of the cast. Like George, this show wouldn’t be the same without him.
Scott Carmichael is also a standout, as he switches between a variety of roles from the radio show host to villain Mr. Potter and forgetful Uncle Billy. He is by turns snarling, funny and sympathetic.
Rounding out the exceptional cast is Kate Dion-Richard as George’s wife Mary, Abraham Asto as the angel Clarence and others, and Kirsten Van Ritzen as Violet and others.
They all contribute to the warm atmosphere that draws you in and makes you feel like you’re in another time and place.
Because this is a radio show, the script includes a few advertising breaks, which are a hilarious touch in this otherwise dramatic piece.
Mark Dumez uses a light touch as director and wisely lets the familiar story be the centrepiece. The reason It’s a Wonderful Life continues to resonate with audiences is because almost everyone has felt like George Bailey at some point in their lives. Very few truly reach fame and fortune; most of us live lives that nobody will write about when we are gone. And yet to our families and friends and the people in our communities we play a pivotal role that most of the time we don’t even notice. This story teaches us that our ordinary lives are not lived in vain if we are not draped in honours — every one of us is important.
This show is a great way to enjoy a Christmas tradition with just a bit of a twist.
It runs until Dec. 23. For tickets or more information, go to chemainustheatre.ca