By Kimberly Rau
There are likely few people who don’t know the Christmas story “It’s a Wonderful Life.” But Gamm has once again taken the beloved tale of George Bailey and presented it as a classic 1940s radio play, complete with traditional sound effects and commercials sung in harmony (sponsored by Greenwood Credit Union!). The result is a 90 minute escape into Bedford Falls that will put anyone in the Christmas spirit.
A quick refresher, in case you need it: George Bailey has always wanted to leave Bedford Falls and see the world. But between mishaps at the family business, World War 2 and marriage and family, it never seems to happen for our optimistic adventurer. When everything comes to a stressful crescendo just before Christmas one year, George is facing jail time and decides to end it all. Instead, he’s rescued by the happy-go-lucky angel Clarence, and shown what the world would be like if George Bailey had never been born. In the end, the community George has bailed out over and over again comes to his rescue, George learns that no one is a failure when he has friends, and Clarence finally gets his wings. It’s a charming story, and staging it as a radio show makes it all the more fun.
Tony Estrella directs 2022’s production, which has some new faces in the cast this time around. Jeff Church expertly takes us through the life of George Bailey, first as a boy rescuing his brother, then as a college hopeful, and finally as exasperated but loving family man. Lynsey Ford returns to reprise her role as George’s wife Mary, who has loved him since she was a teenager and keeps things afloat at home while he’s out saving the family Savings and Loan. Ford does a beautiful job with the part. Fred Sullivan Jr. returns as both the scheming businessman/slumlord Henry Potter and the angel Clarence, along with some other smaller parts. These are two characters who couldn’t be less like one another, and Sullivan takes them both in stride as always.
Of course, no radio play is complete without sounds effects and music. For that we have Will Malloy as the onstage Foley artist, who works tirelessly to bring the sounds of snowstorms, crackling fires and automobiles to life for the audience. Milly Massey plays the piano as the show’s announcer and also doubles as ZuZu, the youngest Bailey. Both Malloy and Massey are new additions to the cast, and embrace their roles wonderfully.
The show is performed in one act that lasts around an hour and half, interspersed with “commercials” and “instant messages.” The latter is one of the most charming parts of the show. Audience members are encouraged to write messages down before the performance, some of which are read “live on the air.” These range from heartwarming to silly and are always well-anticipated. (“I got on the air again!” one message said jubilantly, apparently from a regular who attended last year.) Then there are the Christmas carols sung before the show begins. It’s all designed to feel as immersive as possible, and it works.
If you’re looking for a fun, family-friendly way to get in the holiday spirit, this is the show for you. Bring your kids, your parents, anyone young or old who wants a reminder of the true meaning of Christmas. You won’t be sorry.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” runs through Dec. 24 at The Gamm Theatre, Jefferson Blvd., Warwick. Tickets may be obtained at the box office, online at gammtheatre.org or by calling 401.723.4266. Masks are now optional unless specifically indicated for a certain performance.