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Stage review: A static radio remake of a Capra classic

December 07, 2012|By Lynne Heffley
  • Playboy Clifton Logan (Clayton J. Meeks) flirts with the KAWL Radio Girls (Julia Plostnieks and Jenn Scuderi) as station owner Michael Anderson (Jim Martyka) looks on disapprovingly in the Theatre Unleashed production of "It's a Wonderful Life."
Playboy Clifton Logan (Clayton J. Meeks) flirts with… (Courtesy of The…)

The evergreen appeal of Frank Capra's film classic, “It's a Wonderful Life,” about a despairing Everyman who learns that his life has had profound meaning, translates not only to frequent TV airings during the holiday season, but to numerous live stagings.

Joe Landry's “Live Radio Play” adaptation, touring the country since the 1990s, has pretty much dominated recent theatrical territory, but that hasn't closed the door to other dramatized versions of the classic. Giving it a go locally: Theatre Unleashed, reprising its own 2011 radio-themed staging, “KAWL Presents ‘It's a Wonderful Life': A Radio Play for the Stage,” at the Missing Piece Theatre in Burbank.

In company member Jim Martyka's adaptation, directed by Erin Scott, failing 1940s-era radio station KAWL is putting on what looks to be its last broadcast, an in-studio Christmas performance of “It's a Wonderful Life,” starring Henry Fonda and Ginger Rogers. When the headliners don't show up, station owner Michael (Martyka) and his long-suffering girlfriend and assistant Melanie (Katie Sikkema) fill in as George and Mary Bailey. The rest of the “It's a Wonderful Life” cast members include tippling Victor (Carlos Martinez, too often stuck with slurring through his multiple roles), and a seemingly homeless “Man Off the Street” (Jacob Smith), recruited at the last minute to play George's redemptive angel Clarence.

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Regrettably, Martyka's play-within-a-play, radio station framework is the weakest part of the show. Despite vintage looking microphones and costumes suggesting 1940s fashions, and despite some fine Christmas carol harmonies from the “KAWL Radio Girls” — Julia Plostnieks, Heather Lake and Jenn Scuderi — there is little sense of time and place when the cast portrays the radio station's “real life” personas during supposed commercial breaks and before and after the “broadcast.” Beth Wallan, as radio star Frannie McGinn and as Mother Bailey, is an exception, giving both characters vintage substance and twinkle.

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