By Jennifer Jackson Whitley – For The Times
Take a step back to the 1950s, where families sat around a pictureless box to listen instead of watch — hard to imagine, isn’t it?
Before Xbox, Internet and HDTVs, the most popular form of leisure was found in radio, and that entertainment returns this weekend with Fifth Row Center’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” at Springs Community Church.
“This version of the play gives us an opportunity to expose our audiences to something very different and special from our normal shows,” director Melissa Thomas said. “It has been especially fun for the young people in the cast, as they could not fathom how their grandparents survived without Nintendo Wii.”
The original script from the classic film “It’s a Wonderful Life” called for 27 actors, which are hard to find during the holiday season, but the radio show allows actors to play multiple parts.
“This has been the best fun. The actors all tried different ways to portray each character, even having to talk to themselves until we figured out who should play whom. It’s a true actor’s show,” Thomas said.
Ciro Manzari is one of the actors with multiple roles of Joseph and Mr. Potter.
“I love Christmas time and all the holiday classics that so many of us have watched since we were kids,” he said. “The movie ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ is truly one of those classics, so to have the opportunity to audition and land a part in this production was exciting.”
With the theme of “there’s always hope,” the show will inspire and entertain.
“‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ shows how someone can overcome major detours in life,” Manzari said. “The main character had his whole life planned out until obstacles kept him from fulfilling his dreams. In the end, he realizes that his small, insignificant life had such a profound effect on the lives of others. He comes to realize that he truly had, a wonderful life.”
Though different from a typical play and radio segment, Thomas’ rendition offers audiences the best of both worlds.
“Our show is actually two shows within one. As the audience enters the theater, they will be taken back to a radio studio on Christmas Eve, 1944. They will listen to big band music of the era as the actors prepare to perform,” Thomas said.
To add to the vintage appeal, Usherettes will be selling vintage candy and “USO Bonds” throughout the show.
“We have had special commemorative cards, or ‘bonds,’ made that we’ll be selling for $1 each. All proceeds will be given to the (USO),” said Thomas. “The cast chose the USO as it has played such an important role in the lives of our service men and women, especially during WWII.”
As an act of appreciation, any person serving in the U.S. military receives a free ticket when arriving to the show in uniform.
After the show’s introduction, the real treat begins.
“We will have live sound effects as if you are hearing the show over the radio,” Thomas said. “I invite everyone during the show to close their eyes for a short while, and feel what it would have been like to actually hear this over the radio.”
With period costumes and technology, the essence of “It’s a Wonderful Life” will shine on stage.
“Our ‘Foley table,’ where all the sound effects are coming from, is actually the star of the show,” Thomas said. “We usually take these sounds for granted in a live action show, but in radio, someone has to make them. Sound effects will be done live on stage with our two wonderful Foleys, Jeff Hanna and Tom Kiningham”
For an out-of-the-box holiday experience, Thomas invites everyone to join them this weekend, leaving technology behind and gaining perspective.
“This play has so many warm memories for so many people. It just isn’t Christmas without George Bailey taking on Mr. Potter,” she said. “Everyone one of us is important to someone else and all of our lives’ matter. This play is so full of joy and Christmas spirit that it will make everyone leave with a good, tingly feeling all over.”
Show & Ticket info:
Fifth Row Center Theater
7:30 p.m. Dec. 17 and 18
The Springs Church, 6553 Spout Springs Road, Flowery Branch
$8 children, students and seniors; $10 adults
678-357-7359 or email ticket requests to: email@example.com.