REVIEW: Concord Players make ‘It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play’ savvy, vintage entertainment

Before we tackle this vintage holiday favorite, I would be remiss not to mention the acclaimed founder of the Concord Players.  Fans of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women know of the beloved drama club that was established in the book as well as the Pickwick Papers, the title a nod to Charles Dickens.  Beloved author Louisa May Alcott founded the Concord Players and Little Women has been staged annually as Concord Players reached their centennial year.  Perhaps the drama club in the book was part of her inspiration.

Speaking of Charles Dickens, A Dramatic Reading of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol read by Johnny Kinsman will be the next Concord Players streaming event on YouTube Friday, December 18th at 7 p.m. Click here for more information on the event and how to support The Concord Players.

Classic holiday entertainment resurfaces the way mistletoe suddenly hovers over unsuspecting lovebirds at just the right moment.  One of the holiday season’s most anticipated classics is Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, a 1946 film about life’s joys and struggles culminating on Christmas Eve starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed.  It returns to the television screen every year with several opportunities to watch.

Directed commendably by John Pease, The Concord Players presented this beloved classic in November with a novel and nostalgic twist.  Rewinding the clock to Radio’s Golden Age in the 1940s on a dark, snowy night in Manhattan, NY, Concord Players streamed Joe Landry’s It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play staged as a live radio broadcast on fictional station WCPR for a limited time on Broadway on Demand from Friday, November 20 through Sunday, November 22. 

The bright and festive studio stage was adorned in Christmas lights, garland, and a Christmas tree while a group of voiceover artists included Freddie Filmore as Announcer, Lana Sherwood, Sally Applewhite, Eileen Rivera, and Jake Laurette as George Bailey recreate the show on vintage sterling microphones, portraying a number of roles in the process.  Rachael Rabinovitz’s authentic and colorful costumes set a cheerful tone as performers dress in their festive Sunday best for the radio.

Optimistic George Bailey’s faith in life and humanity is challenged as he desperately struggles to figure out life’s meaning as a certain angel is vying for his very own set of wings.  Touching, poignant, and darker than one would expect, It’s a Wonderful Life is a timeless family production that reminds audiences what truly matters.  Foley artist and sound effect expert Elizabeth Havenor’s technical wizardry is a scene stealer as Concord Players bring new perspective to this classic tale.

The cast masters the tricky task of portraying 1940’s voiceover artists, while also embracing a number of beloved characters in the production.  Navigating between each individual character while voicing multiple characters young and old within the play take particular skill.  Craig Howard brings warmth and charm to wise, yet bumbling Clarence and it was fascinating to watch Howard change his voice to Sam Wainwright by placing a glass against his mouth.

It was refreshing to see Jay Newlon portraying dreamy George Bailey not with Jimmy Stewart directly in mind in a good natured, earnest, adventurous portrayal, though he needed a bit more fire during the show’s more climactic moments.  A particular highlight was witnessing the torment in George’s face as he struggled with leaving his hometown behind while also feeling obligated to stay.  His scenes with heartwarming and hopeful Rachael Rabinovitz as Mary Hatch and with Jenn Bubriski as Rose Bailey have beautiful candor.

John Alzapiedi delivered a versatile performance as a winning narrator, skillfully depicts Potter’s booming narcissism and menacing gravitas, and brings sympathetic Mr. Gower to life.

Sound designer Tim Powers was behind the show’s authentic vintage sound which included the organ-tinged, melodramatic music and jingles of old and a couple of engaging commercials “from our sponsor.”

Foley artist and sound effect coordinator Elizabeth Havenor seamlessly kept the show rolling as her busy hands maneuvered every sound seamlessly.  Allen and Anne Bantly must have brought new meaning to providing the appropriate props to keep Havenor up to speed.  She rang every bell, blew each whistle, and slammed every door while also creating an impeccably-timed ringing telephone to a wild storm to popping champagne.  It was amazing to see how all of it was done during radio’s golden age.  It’s a Wonderful Life is such a timeless show and yet translates so well into a live radio play that it never misses a beat.  

Concord Players will soon present A Dramatic Reading of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol read by Johnny Kinsman will be the next Concord Players streaming event on YouTube Friday, December 18th at 7 p.m. Click here for more information on the event and how to support The Concord Players.

REVIEW: Company Theatre’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ immersive, haunting, and filled with holiday spirit

The Company Theatre’s haunting, immersive, and meaningful A Christmas Carol is a frequent holiday tradition with good reason.  So much more than the Charles Dickens classic, the Company Theatre calls on the holiday spirit through subtle nuances in story and song and the exceptional festivities only become more fervent each December it takes the stage.  Sure, the Company Theatre weaved in the holiday spirit in other December productions such as last year’s Charles Dickens classic, Oliver the Musical (featuring Matt O’Connor as Oliver who returns as adorable Scrooge as a young boy) but this thought-provoking tale of charity, compassion, and forgiveness is the pinnacle holiday treat.

Company Theatre A Christmas Carol

Company Theatre’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ is sold out! Photo courtesy of The Company Theatre

The Company Theatre presents the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol now through Sunday, December 22 at the Company Theatre in Norwell, Massachusetts.  This show is sold out.  Click here for their recently announced 2020 theatre season and how to support The Company Theatre.

A Christmas Carol is the classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, a wealthy, penny-pinching old miser who has no use for Christmas until his past comes back to haunt him on Christmas Eve.

With LED lighting and cinematography, heightened special effects, singing Carolers flooding the aisles,  enviable costumes by Kathryn Ridder, and snow glimmering over that bright, familiar cobblestone street where Scrooge must face his worst fears, A Christmas Carol is certainly a feast for the eyes.  The uplifting overture, orchestrated by Steve Bass and arranged by Steve Rogers, is tinged in popular Christmas carols, a preview of the wealth of carols and additional songs added to this festive production.  Ding Dong Merrily on High, O Come O Ye Faithful, Hark the Harold Angels Sing, Joy to the World, and Noel are among the production’s musical highlights.

Company Theatre A Christmas Carol Owen George as Tiny Tim as Bill Carter as Bob Cratchit

Owen George as Tiny Tim and Bill Carter as Bob Cratchit Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Directed by Zoe Bradford and Jordie Saucerman, The Company Theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol also sets itself apart by weaving in the beauty of the season within the excitement of its joyous ensemble cast.  Each cobblestone street character is as enthralling as the immediate cast, each with their own individual story and holiday motivation within the context of this beautiful London setting.  The action is so immersive that it can hide the immediate cast a bit.  One of the most endearing moments is the return of a lively trio running around the London streets holding up mistletoe for kisses as well as the uplifting and rollicking period dance numbers choreographed with style by Sally Ashton Forrest.

This production boasts a lively cast led by Phillip Hebert as miserly Ebeneezer Scrooge.  Hebert exacts Scrooge’s deep, searing signature growl, his sterling vocals cutting into the soul.  Scrooge toils, scowls, and his dire sense of humor is not lost on his cheerful and generous nephew Fred, portrayed with a crisp accent and inviting demeanor by Christopher Spenser.  In spectacles and a sour huff, Hebert is best in his dark gruffness. However, his overall interpretation becomes jollier as the show progresses as his arms stubbornly swayto the music, offering a lighter, increasingly heartening Scrooge.

Company Theatre A Christmas Carol Owen George as Tiny Tim and Philip Hebert as Scrooge

Owen George as Tiny Tim and Philip Hebert as Ebenezer Scrooge Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Bill Carter portrays humble, guarded, and sympathetic Bob Cratchit.  Hebert and Carter skillfully develop palpable tension as Carter, leery, speaks to Scrooge out of turn.  Kris Connolly portrays loyal and eternally patient Mrs. Cratchit.  Connolly and Carter deliver heartwarming scenes with their large, beautiful family including sweet Owen George as Tiny Tim as their voices lift for the bright and original song, Noel.

Adorned in a gorgeous lit crown and veil, Nicole Hall delivers warmth, yet a foreboding quality as the Ghost of Christmas Past.  Serene and gentle, she brings out the best in Scrooge’s curmudgeonly soul.  Majestic in a crown of holly and carrying a cornucopia, Dave Daly glides across the stage as charismatic, jolly and larger-than-life Ghost of Christmas Present and the equally endearing Mr. Fezziwig.  Lilly George and Brynn Hsu also shine as giggling Christmas sprites.  Covered in hazy light, Dan Kelly is remarkably ghoulish and crazed as Jacob Marley with some very impressive special effects.

Company Theatre’s A Christmas Carol pulls off a couple of surprises to this classic tale in the finale, and cannot leave out Megan Boutilier’s expressive and hilarious depiction of The Laundress.  She is marvelous.  If the holiday season is not spreading the joy that is should this year, Company Theatre’s A Christmas Carol will certainly encourage that heartwarming feeling, indeed.

The Company Theatre continues A Christmas Carol at the Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts through December 22.  The show is sold out, but click here for their exciting 2020 season.

REVIEW: Company Theatre’s enhanced, lively production of Lionel Bart’s ‘Oliver! ‘kicks this classic up a notch

It was a nostalgic night witnessing Company Theatre’s livelier version of Lionel Bart’s musical, Oliver! having performed in the musical production in high school.  While my part was limited to selling roses on a busy London street, the Company Theatre opened up an entire world for the holidays with enhanced flair for Lionel Bart’s Oliver! continuing through Sunday, December 16 at The Company Theatre in Norwell, Massachusetts.  The production has recently sold out.  Click here for more information on the Company Theatre and their future productions.

Directed by Zoe Bradford and Jordie Saucerman and musically directed by Steve Bass with choreography by Sally Ashton Forrest, Lionel Bart’s Oliver!  is the latest version of this Charles Dickens’ classic.  This family production has enjoyed several tours and revivals in different parts of the world in its close to 60-year history.

It’s is the tale of a workhouse orphan who get entangled in a series of unfortunate events that lead him to face many adversaries, but stays strong in his search for hope and love.  With a large cast featuring memorable numbers such as Consider Yourself, As Long as He Needs Me, I’d Do Anything, and the title song, Oliver, this tale has its share of dark and humorous moments while delivering an important message about humanity that is especially relevant during the holidays.

Company Theatre's Oliver

Matthew O’Connor as Oliver Photo courtesy of Company Theatre

During the holiday season, the Company Theatre tends to make whichever production they have chosen bigger and more spectacular in line with the spirit of the season.  Lionel Bart’s Oliver! stays consistent with that tradition featuring extended, more upbeat musical numbers, grander sets,  and sharper choreography, especially during the sweeping numbers and quicker pacing of Food, Glorious Food and Consider Yourself.

From the humble, stone-lined workhouse surroundings with a single banner that reads, ‘God is Love’ to a bright street setting, Ryan Barrow’s impressive, rolling set design details the diversity of 1840’s London.  Set pieces dropping from the ceiling was a particular highlight.

The musical’s classic line, ‘I want some more’ has never sounded more humble than from the adorable countenance of Matthew O’Connor as Oliver, a sweet, naïve, but daring workhouse orphan boy who, by uncontrollable circumstances, has an opportunity to see life beyond the workhouse walls.  He shares some amusing camaraderie with Colin Paduck as the Artful Dodger, portrayed with a thick, regional accent and a charismatic grin.  They stay in time with the children’s ensemble’s compelling choreography, an energetic bunch light on their feet during some of the production’s most challenging numbers.

Company Theatre's Oliver - Sowerberrys

The Sowerberrys Christopher Spencer as Mr Sowerberry and Christa Dunn as Mrs. Sowerberry Photo courtesy of The Company Theatre

Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry are wonderfully wicked together.  With a nasal voice and prominent sideburns, Christopher Spencer is quite comical as dour Mr. Sowerberry and Christa Dunn as stern and maybe a bit tipsy Mrs. Sowerberry.  With a prominent stance and a great voice, Francis Sheehan takes on the gruffly bombastic parish beadle Mr. Bumble.

Company Theatre's Oliver - Oliver Fagin and Artful Dodger

Colin Paduck as The Artful Dodger, Christopher Hagberg as Fagin, Matthew O’Connor as Oliver and the children’s ensemble Photo courtesy of Company Theatre

With a white beard, black hat, and flowing overcoat, Christopher Hagberg delivers a limber, stealthy performance as Fagin.  Hagberg captures the magic of Fagin, his deceptively good nature and comic greediness put on display in the number, You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two and the fiddle-infused Reviewing the Situation.

Company Theatre's Oliver- Nancy, Oliver, Bet, and Artful Dodger

Brittany Rolfs as Nancy, Matthew O’Connor as Oliver, Aliyah Harris as Bet, and Colin Paduck as the Artful Dodger Photo courtesy of the Company Theatre

Brittany Rolfs brings sass and saavy to the role of Nancy, a sweet but tough woman who has mixed with the wrong crowd.  From her passionate, tenacious version of As Long as She Needs Me to the catchy harmony of the playful, rollicking number, Oom-Pah-Pah, Nancy is a force of her own onstage, sweet with the children, but always certain of what she wants.

With a deep seated growl and a menacing stare, Damian Smith steps into the role of troubled Bill Sikes.  In this production, The Company Theatre brings a new dimension and lesser known angle to this character as he stalks the city streets.  Remington is a welcome addition to the cast as scene stealing Bullseye, Bill Sikes’s dog.

The Company Theatre is capping off its 40th season with Lionel Bart’s Oliver! continuing through Sunday, December 16.  Click here for how to support the Company Theatre and here for more on their 2019 season.