I know of people who think It’s a Wonderful Life is overrated. Nuts to them, I say. I think it’s one of the finest Christmas movies of all time. Perhaps the dislike has been from the many sitcom reincarnations of the “what if I never existed” storyline creating exhaustion with the idea. Saturday morning cartoons used the plotline as a rite of passage.
It seems that the curse of having such an amazing movie is the oversaturation in parody. The original, though, doesn’t suffer from it. The trials and tribulations of George Bailey play out like a 90-minute version of the first ten minutes of Up, with dreams and savings building up and disappearing with each new twist of life planting a steel toed boot to his shin. It’s a long slog through a wearing torture chamber of a town that grinds up a good person over the decades that earns one of the happiest endings on film.
For 12 years, It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, has been a holiday tradition at the St. Paul Hotel. Becky and I went once a few years ago and wanted to see it again while we were celebrating our anniversary.
To make the staging work, they perform the movie as a 1940s style radio play, with actors reading from scripts on stage, playing multiple parts, and with live sound effects from one of the performers. They encase the movie within the conceit of the actors portraying other actors who are putting on the radio play, so they are able to get in some Christmas songs from each of the actors before the play begins. They are also able to do some crowd messaging – Becky and I both wrote sweet anniversary notes that were read on stage after intermission.
It’s hard to say if the play would make sense without knowing the movie beforehand, but the stage version still manages to get me choked up at key moments. The actors do a great job creating characters that stand out from each other simply with changes of voice. There are a few great gags with an overactive Foley artist.
Oh, and the whole thing comes with a three-course meal. The food is timed with the production so there’s no clattering of silverware during the It’s A Wonderful Life play. We enjoyed a delightful cauliflower bisque, pork roulade and eggnog gateaux. They also had a holiday themed old fashioned made with sage and cranberries – we got several of those.
This production is sold out for this year, but the good news is you can catch it on WCCO Radio 830, Christmas Eve at 5 p.m.