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.

Acclaimed producer Sue Gilad talks Tony nominations, girl power, and heartwarming musical, ‘A Taste of Things to Come’

From the award-winning Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 to Angels in America, renowned theatre producer Suzanne Gilad has an eye for the next big show.  Boasting an array of memorable tunes, Sue’s current musical project, A Taste of Things to Come, has been described as Jersey Boys meets Betty Crocker meets the 60s feminist movement.  It takes the stage at Chicago’s Broadway Playhouse through April 29.

A Taste of Things to Come poster

Photo courtesy of Broadway in Chicago

Sue discusses getting Tony nominations, bringing A Taste of Things to Come to Chicago, and Turtle Wax.  Click here for more information and tickets to A Taste of Things to Come.

Sleepless Critic:  You are involved in a number of well known projects such as Angels in America, Madame Butterfly, Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, and upcoming project, The Other Josh Cohen.  What first brought you into the theatre world?

Sue Gilad:  I was a performer a long time ago and then started doing voice overs, which took me down a completely separate and fun path.  A few years ago, a friend created a show and asked me if I would help shape it.  I discovered being a producer meant that I could be responsible and still have a life. We get to be creative in terms of what kinds of work we bring to the public to see and hopefully open their minds and hearts.  It made sense and there are still relatively few female producers in the business, although that is changing.  There is a lot of growth for that.

I would jump Broadway projects as a co-producer and that is what is happening with the recently opened Angels in America.  People ask me if they can meet Andrew Garfield who delivers a tremendous and transformative performance in the show.  I’ve never seen him like that.

SC:  What was it like for you when Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 got multiple Tony nominations?

SG:  It was such a big honor that the show received the most Tony nominations of any show last year.  The best part about getting the nominations was The Great Comet was a big creative risk.  I don’t think anyone thought it was going to be on Broadway with its tiny stage and cast.  When it was at the American Repertory Theatre (A.R.T) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Diane Paulus wanted to take the show which was in the round and remount it into proscenium theatre.  She did to great acclaim and it became an immersive production, unlike anything Broadway has ever seen before.

A Taste of Things to Come women

Libby Servais (Broadway: Wicked, Lysistrata Jones), Cortney Wolfson (Broadway: The Addams Family, Les Miserables) Broadway’s Linedy Genao (On Your Feet! Original Broadway Cast), Marissa Rosen (Off-Broadway’s The Marvelous Wonderettes) Photo courtesy of Broadway in Chicago

 

SC:  A Taste of Things to Come has an all female crew.  Was it planned that way?

SG:  Dare I say that the women were the most qualified for the job?  A Taste of Things to Come, written by Hollye Levin and Debra Barsha, is based on Hollye’s experience of her mom and a part of it tells the story of the life her mom had growing up.  Then director Lorin Latarro came onboard when the show debuted at Bucks County Playhouse in Pennsylvania.  Everybody loved her and she brings tremendous things to the show.

The show features four women that age from age 25 in 1957 to age 35 in 1967.  Everything blows open in the beginning of Act 2 when they are 10 years older and wiser with more opportunities for women and delicious secrets about race, religion, and sexuality which is not something you really talked about in the 1950s.  By the 1960s, there was a real space for it.  You get to see these women’s journeys during an incredible moment in history.

SC:  What was it about A Taste of Things to Come that grabbed your attention?

SG:  I saw a rehearsal or reading of this show and loved it.  It gave me the opportunity to articulate my gratitude to the generation before me that broke through so many glass ceilings I didn’t even know existed.

Women of that generation either didn’t work or they became teachers and nurses so my generation can become doctors and superintendents.  Then my kids’ generation can do whatever they want for work or nothing for work.  It’s just extraordinary and gave me a window into the past.  I can share it with my mom and, if I wanted to, bring my teenage daughters to it.  It’s a celebration of friendship, solidarity, and kind of interestingly timed with the advent of the ‘me too’ and ‘times up’ movement that women in their time also had to take a stance for things that were beyond their comfort zone or what was socially acceptable at the time.

A Taste of Things to Come cast

The cast of ‘A Taste of Things to Come’ Photo courtesy of Broadway in Chicago

SC:  The New York Times has described A Taste of Things to Come as ‘a recipe for catchy musical theatre.’  Please tell me a little about the music and your favorite songs.

SG:  Composer Debra Barsha worked on Jersey Boys on Broadway for ten years so it starts out with the popular tunes of the 1950s.  Ten years later, things become a lot groovier and it had a really distinctive 60s sound.  My favorite song has been shifting as I get to know it better, but today I love the song, Blessings in Disguise.  It’s a testament to the things we think will challenge us which are actually the things that make us stronger and give us unexpected gifts.  My other favorite song is In Time, the final song of the show.  The entire cast sings it and they look back at what they have been through together as individuals and as a group of friends.  The best things happen in time.

SC:  What has it been like putting the show together?

Since the show is set in Winnetka, A Taste of Things to Come is making its home in Chicago.  It’s been fun listening to the audio discs during previews because of the way the audience giggles with any Winnetka or Chicago reference.  We were very lucky to get New York Broadway actresses but we also have an understudy that can swing all four roles.  Madison Kauffman is a Chicago native who just graduated from college.  She came in for the first day of rehearsal completely off book for all four roles.  Her level of excitement and passion is so thrilling.

A Taste of Things to Come Chicago cast

The cast of ‘A Taste of Things to Come’ Photo courtesy of Broadway in Chicago

SC:  What kind of support is the show looking for?

SG:  We have a great sponsor based out of Chicago called Turtle Wax.  It is in the script because it was wax that men were using in 1957 for their cars.  We would be open for Chicago-based companies to sponsor the show because we do have a wonderful, primarily female, well-educated audience.

SC:  What is in store for the future of the show?

SG:  We have wonderful theatres interested in having the show at their theatre so we might take the show on tour.  Then we’re hoping to get it licensed so every school, regional theatre, community, and worldwide theatre can perform it and share the victories of womanhood.

A Taste of Things to Come continues at the Broadway Playhouse in Chicago through April 29.  Click here for more information and for tickets.  Follow A Taste of Things to Come on Facebook and Twitter.

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