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'It's a Wonderful Life' has nostalgic feel as live radio play

Ten cast members of Carpenter Square Theatre in Oklahoma City present “It's a Wonderful Life: A Radio-on-Stage Show” on a set based on a 1946 radio studio.
BY JOHN BRANDENBURG Published: December 6, 2013

The premise of performing “It's a Wonderful Life” as a live radio play sometimes seemed a little forced, like applauding on cue, when the sign lit up, in its staging at Carpenter Square Theatre.

But enough of the drama and melodrama that made the Frank Capra movie a classic did get through to keep opening nighters entertained in the staging of the script, adapted by Tony Palermo from the 1946 film.

It was performed on a set based on a 1946 radio studio by 10 cast members, who got up to read their parts in front of tall microphones, under “applause” and “on the air” signs, with special effects created on stage.

David Burkhart brought just enough cluelessness and comic exaggeration, seasoned with a hint of Jimmy Stewart, to George Bailey, whose plans for world travel, college and great deeds keep getting sidetracked.

JJ Arends was appealing, without overdoing it, as Mary, the true-blue girl George courts after a graduation dance, who comes back from college to raise a family with him, despite the allure of nearby New York City.

Supplying a worthy, if nearly over-the-top, villain was Shawn Hicks as the banker who controls everything in Bedford Falls except the family savings and loan George takes over when his father dies, giving loans to people in need.

Filling multiple roles, as did everyone in the cast except Burkhart and Arends, Hicks also brought a solid if predictable stage presence to his portrayals of Officer Bert, the Sheriff, and a tavern owner with a heavy Italian accent.

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