It's a Wonderful Life (Review)

Falcon Theatre offers holiday classic as a radio play

A lot of people who love the holidays can recite lines from Frank Capra’s popular 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life. The heartwarming tale resonates with American goodness, underscoring how living an honest life, doing the right thing and treating other people decently is its own reward.

The film is a classic thanks to actors who etched memorable characters — not just Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey and Donna Reed as his devoted wife, but also Henry Travers as Clarence the quirky Angel, Lionel Barrymore as the villain Mr. Potter and Thomas Mitchell as dotty Uncle Billy.

Rather than simply bring this story to the stage, Falcon Theatre has chosen a script by Anthony Palermo that retells the story as a radio drama, which seems fitting since it was the dominant media when the film was released. Falcon’s production in Newport’s tiny Monmouth Theatre (where the work was previously staged in 2008 and 2009) re-creates a radio studio with three sound effects artists, a stentorian announcer, electric organ, three cute singers for ads and a cast of voice talents who play multiple roles.

While there’s nothing new or surprising about the story — told scene-by-scene and almost line-by-line from the original — it’s engaging to watch a radio play come together and to see talented actors playing multiple roles. Stuart McNeill re-creates Clarence and others, and Lisa Dirkes gives lots of variety and voices to Violet, Zuzu and more. In particular, Nathan Ruggles impresses, quickly switching from Potter to Billy and back. Caitlyn Rose Allison conveys Mary’s good-natured love for her husband and family, and Carter Bratton captures George’s earnest frustration with small-town life.

Seen on opening night, the performance felt under-rehearsed, needing more energy to sustain momentum through three acts. Nonetheless, it made for an evening of pleasant nostalgic entertainment.

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A LIVE RADIO DRAMA, presented by Falcon Theatre, continues through Dec. 19 at Newport’s Monmouth Theatre. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.

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