It's a Wonderful Life
New City Players Near Ft. Lauderdale
By: Aaron Krause - Dec 06, 2022
Perhaps, when you were a child, you put on skits for your neighbors in your garage or backyard.
While you could not afford expensive props, you used any and every object you could find around your home to help tell a story. In addition, you used your voice to suggest, for instance, the ringing of a phone…and you did not try to hide that fact. Still, your clapping neighbors appreciated your enthusiasm. After all, you were enthusiastically doing what people have done since the days of cavemen. You were telling a story.
When you and the neighborhood children were not acting out stories, perhaps everybody gathered near the fireplace and around the radio on a frigid, snowy winter night. A favorite program was about to start. In anticipation, a hush filled the air, except for the slurping sounds of everybody sipping hot coco.
New City Players’ (NCP) current imaginative production of an adaptation of the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life conjures such memories of simpler times. Specifically, for this charming production, NCP has transformed the intimate auditorium and entrance at Island City Stage, where the company performs, into a Ft. Lauderdale radio station in 1949.
So many Christmas decorations grace the place that you do not know where to look first. In fact, the entire interior resembles an indoor winter wonderland, complete with cotton-like material to suggest snow. Meanwhile, free goodies such as hot coco and muffins are available for audiences to take and enjoy while watching the show.
The nonprofit, professional NCP’s mission is to “create community through transformative theater.” Certainly, a homey feeling of community pervades the auditorium these days as NCP presents a live radio play adaptation of It’s a Wonderful Life. The roughly one-hour, 30-minute, intermission-free production runs through Dec. 18.
For this adaptation, by Joe Landry, theatergoers in attendance are audience members at the fictional Ft. Lauderdale radio station WNCP’s live taping of the classic. Signs such as one indicating “applause” illuminate at appropriate times. Of course, the adaptation’s basis is Frank Capra’s 1946 American Christmas fantasy film starring James Stewart as down-on-his-luck, suicidal George Bailey.
A hard-working NCP cast of five performers portrays WNCP radio actors. The fictional performers, in turn, play all the roles in It’s a Wonderful Life. They use objects such as drinking glasses and celebratory horns to create the sound effects for radio audiences. In addition to the props, NCP’s cast members use their expressive, versatile voices to believably portray the many characters in It’s a Wonderful Life.
For those unfamiliar with the story, the setting is Christmas Eve in Bedford Falls, New York in 1945. Bailey, who has repeatedly put aside his desire to study and explore the world in order to serve his community, has lived a life of beneficence. But on this Christmas Eve, he needs members of his community to come to his aid. Things are not going his way, and his ordeal is about to get worse. As a hopeless Bailey tries to commit suicide, an “Angel Second Class” named Clarence descends from heaven and saves Bailey’s life.
But Clarence’s goal on this night is to earn his wings. To do that, he will have to do something even more extraordinary. Clarence sees his chance when Bailey tells him that the world would have been better off had he never been born. And, so, Clarence magically creates a George Bailey-less world. Bad things have happened because all of Bailey’s good deeds are undone; he was never around to do them. Bailey, unable to take it any longer, begs Clarence for his existence back. It is only after Clarence complies that Bailey is able to truly appreciate how much he meant to his friends and loved ones – and how much he depended on them.
Clearly, It’s a Wonderful Life’s messages are that every person’s life has worth, and you contribute more to the world around you than you will ever know.
“Strange, isn’t it?,” Clarence asks Bailey. “Each man’s life touches so many other lives. And when he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”
Also, with so much divisiveness and violence in the world, one can easily lose sight of the fact that there are good people in this world. It’s a Wonderful Life reminds us of this when Bailey’s community comes to his aid in his time of need.
In addition, this show reminds us about the importance of friendship.
"No man is a failure who has friends," Clarence tells Bailey.
Under NCP Producing Artistic Director Timothy Mark Davis’s sensitive direction (Elizabeth Price served as production manager and assistant director), the cast mostly succeeds in believably bringing the characters to vibrant life.
Carlos Alayeto boasts expressive facial expressions to match his expressive, versatile voice. When he portrays the piece’s villain, Henry F. Potter, Alayeto’s sneaky, cunning, and bitter voice helps to create a character who is as easy to hate as Scrooge before that character’s transformation.
If you want to be technical, actually Alayeto portrays fictional radio actor Freddie Filmore, who plays Potter and other characters. In addition to the villain, Alayeto/Filmore plays the radio announcer with a pleasing voice.
Meanwhile, a fresh-faced Marcos Fuentes, who portrays radio performer Jake Laurents, imbues Bailey with a purity and charm that should endear the character to many. Clearly, Fuentes’s Bailey is the kind of person who would sacrifice his desires for others. However, what is missing from the performance is convincing desperation, despondency, and emotional pain before Bailey attempts to end his life. Also absent is a wide-eyed sense of wonder and curiosity that could convince us that Bailey is an adventurous type.
Marlo Rodriguez, as fictional actor Sally Applewhite, portrays Bailey’s girlfriend and later wife, Mary Hatch. She lends the character a sense of devotion that makes us believe that she is committed to her husband.
Noah Levine (as fictional performer Harry “Jazzbo” Heywood) plays characters such as Clarence with a tender heartedness. However, the “Angel Second Class’s” determination to earn his wings could be more pronounced in this performance.
Also, Caroline Dopson (as fictional actor Lana Sherwood) ably portrays characters such as Josephine with sensitivity and sincerity.
Scenic and costume designers Casey Sacco and Arlette Del Toro have created a spacious and colorful set for the actors to perform. Meanwhile, Desiraé Merritt’s lighting illuminates the space with appropriate colors and degrees of intensity.
Landry’s radio adaptation of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” while charming and moving, misses opportunities to offer audiences something different from the film. In fact, Landry’s play is so faithful, it is as though he lifted the movie from the screen and placed it onto the stage.
Landry has given names to the fictional radio actors. Therefore, we might expect to learn some things about these’ performers lives. For instance, maybe they mirror the action in It’s a Wonderful Life?
On another note, one of the problems with It’s a Wonderful Life is that, for some reason, Clarence reads Mark Twain’s classic, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. And, at the end of the story, Clarence has gifted Bailey a copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. That is fine, but why? What connections, if any, exist between Twain’s beloved story and It’s a Wonderful Life? Neither Clarence nor any other character tell us. With that in mind, it is something for audiences to think about.
Nothing in life is perfect. Still, this radio play adaptation, and NCP’s solid production of it, amount to heartwarming holiday entertainment.
New City Players’ production of a radio play adaptation of It’s a Wonderful Life continues through Dec. 18. Showtimes are at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, as well as 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. A talkback with the cast and creative team immediately follows Sunday performances. For tickets, go to https://www.onthestage.tickets/show/new-city-players/62f40948f7c45d0e40353a01/tickets. You can also go to newcityplayers.org to see video and for more information. Island City Stage, which is where New City Players’ performers, is located at 2304 N. Dixie Highway in Wilton Manors. Call (954) 358-3671 for more information, or send an e-mail to email@example.com. To see a production trailer, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PzWJXoPPCGY&t=3s.