NOVA Center for the Performing Arts -- Billings, Montana

It’s A Wonderful Life

                  It's a wonderful life poster
Poster design by Melanie Fabrizius

It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play by Joe Landry

December 5-20, Roebling Theater

It’s A Wonderful Life sparkles as a radio show. The audience sees and hears this American Holiday Classic come to life as actors bounce from character to character and sound effect to sound effect.

“A fresh and inventive way of reconnecting with a classic story of love and redemption.” Chicago Times



Billings Gazette Review: Sentimental 'Wonderful Life,' the radio version, plays at NOVA
• Jaci Webb Dec 12, 2014

For many, a holiday season isn’t complete without watching Jimmy Stewart as the small-town hero in the classic film, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

So why catch it on the radio? Because the live radio play goes beyond showing those memorable scenes from the 1940s film. The NOVA Center for the Performing Arts’ production connects to the era in a way a movie can’t. “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live Radio Play” runs through Dec. 20 at NOVA.

Six local actors take us back to Bedford Falls for smooching on porch swings, leaving on the next train, and pitching in to help the immigrants next door.

It’s not so much the set, which is elaborately designed to mimic the architecture of a 1940s radio studio with giant neon signs announcing “applause” and “on air.” And it’s not the nostalgic outfits, the wide ties and big curls. There is a sentimentality that comes with being in the same room with these actors who so refreshingly convey the innocence and shared struggle of small communities during World War II.

All the little touches are here — the soup can telephone, real tinsel and big lights on the Christmas tree, and goofy commercials sung to Christmas melodies pitching toilet cake soap and hair tonic. George and Mary walk home together singing “Buffalo Gals” and they get caught necking on the front porch.

Directed by Susan Sommerfeld with assistance from Susan Scariano, the show features Craig Huisenga as George Bailey and Anjanett Hawk as Mary. Pianist Kathy McLain keeps the music flowing throughout the show with musical direction by Darin Niebuhr.

Those voices are what get you. Huisenga’s tenor has such a vulnerability to it, you mourn his unfulfilled dreams at not accomplishing “big and important” tasks on the other side of the world. And Hawk’s distinct voice sounds like it could crack at any moment, but it doesn’t and that’s part of playing Mary because she’s tougher than you would imagine a 1940s housewife to be.

William Mouat takes on several different roles, including the radio announcer, the Grinch-like Mr. Potter and George’s goofball Uncle Billy. It’s a wonder to watch Mouat slip into the different roles with a twist of his jaw or a hunch of his back, all executed in a split second. Kelsey Reid Steffan has the same challenge of performing as several distinct characters, from George’s grade-school-aged daughter to the town hussy, Violet Bick.

Newcomers to the stage, Hilary and Levi Hunt, pitch in with Levi playing George’s angel and Hilary running the prop table using ordinary items like nails in a bucket, bells and hammers to create sound effects. When she gets to turning the handle on the wind machine, you could swear there’s a raging storm.

The show is sentimental, but it’s supposed to be because it’s OK to let down your guard even if it’s just once a year.



Photographs by Hannah Potes, Billings Gazette.

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NOVA Center for the Performing Arts  -  2317 Montana Avenue - Billings, MT 59101
PO Box 11
Billings, MT 59103
Phone: 406-591-9535