At Bucks, 'Life' is 'Wonderful'
The triple-threat (acting, singing, dancing) actors in Bucks County Playhouse's production of "It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play," take a page or pages from director Frank Capra's 1946 Classic starring Jimmy Stewart and transfer the fable of American life to the New Hope stage, where it continues through Dec. 30.
The stage adaptation by Joe Landry was first presented in 1997.
The Bucks Playhouse audience is included in the show, even before the action begins onstage as actors circulate in the aisles and engage the audience in banter. Rob Bissinger's set design lovingly recreates a 1940's era radio studio set, with piano on the audience's right side of the stage and a sounds effects table on the left side. Six microphones on stands are placed stage front with a huge mural depicting the main scenes in Bedford Falls as backdrop.
Rui Rita's lighting design draws our attention to one or several of the actors, depending on the scene and dialogue. Lindsay Jones' sound design captures the voices, nuances and special effects of a radio broadcast. After awhile, the fact that the actors are mostly reading from scripts in their hands fades away.
You are pulled into the storyline and feel as though you're part of the "On The Air" broadcast sign, which is lit during the show. There's also an "Applause" sign, but its lighting is unnecessary because of the cast's fine and versatile performances under Gordon Greenberg's fast-paced direction which expertly recreates the theater of the imagination.
Justin Guarini plays the lead role of Jake, who is portraying George Bailey (the Jimmy Stewart role). Guarini is enthusiastic, intense and precise.
Lauren Molina (Lana) is a scene-stealer in various roles, from young daughter, Zuzu Bailey, to elderly woman to radio show cello player.
Kevin Pariseau (Freddie) is the authoritative radio show host and ping-pongs between roles with amazing alacrity.
Jill Paice (Sally) creates a steadfast, Mary, George Bailey's wife.
Mark Price (Butch) is kindly as Clarence the angel and transforms himself in other roles, as does Garth Kravits (Harry), the sound effects man.
Individual and ensemble singing is superb.
You've seen the movie classic. Go see the radio show.