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'It's A Wonderful Life,' It's a Wonderful Live Radio Play!

Farmington's Virginia Wolf directed Herstory Theater's production of "It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play," written by Fairfield's Joe Landry, at The Mark Twain House museum. The play debuted in Stamford in 1996.

The story of "It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play" was also told through sign language interpreters who memorized the play. Credit: Jessie Sawyer
The story of "It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play" was also told through sign language interpreters who memorized the play. Credit: Jessie Sawyer
By Jessie Sawyer, Orig. Pub. Date 12/7/13

Fairfield native Joe Landry's It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play has been performed in most if not all of the 50 states and around the world.

It was only fitting that Farmington director and Herstory Theater founder Ginny Wolf staged her production of Landry's adaptation at The Mark Twain House museum on Saturday given that guardian angel (second class) Clarence starts off the play reading Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer, dries off his copy after jumping in the river to save George Bailey's life and later leaves the book for him with a personalized message inside. 

The cast included Betsy Maguire (Mary Hatch Bailey), of Simsbury, Chris Berrien (George Bailey), of East Granby, Susan Saks (Rose Bailey, Mrs. Hatch, Zuzu),  Marty Moran (Harry, Sam Wainwright, Uncle Billy, a man in the bar and Tommy), of Wethersfield, Patrick Spadaccino (Mr. Potter, Old Man Collins, Martini, Bert the cop) and Bob Muscatel (Peter Bailey, Ernie, young Peter, Schultz, Nick, a man in a commercial, bridge keeper and Horace), both of Middletown, Jomarie Pipolo (Violet, Ed, Mathilda and Janie) and Mark Englehart (announcer, Joseph, Binky and Mr. Welch), both of West Hartford,  Ann Baldwin (Sadie, Mrs. Thompson, a woman in a commercial, Ruth), of Windsor and John Swanson (Clarence, Mr. Gower, Dr. Campbell and Charlie), of Rockville are in the cast. Wethersfield's Kathryn Lewis stage manages the show.

In classic radio style, the show has breaks with old commercials and jingles that Landry wrote into the script. Moran, Pipolo, Saks and Spadaccino sang the commercial tunes as the WBFR Quartet and other cast members chimed in with vocals for music included in the story like Auld Lang Syne

Ian Galligan was the foley artist for the show, doing sound effects throughout the performance. He utilized some sound board noises but many of the sounds required his physical production of the effect, such as slamming a miniature door, hitting a baseball glove to make the sound of a slap, or pouring pills on a hard surface when they spill at Mr. Gower's drug store. 

Audience members and the cast also had a wonderful treat after the matinee showing on Dec. 7 when Landry answered questions about his play after watching his script come to life in this local rendition.

"It's great to see it performed," he said. 

Landry first wrote a stage adaptation of the popular holiday film after high school. His friend, the drama director at Fairfield Ludlowe High School, was looking for a theater version of It's a Wonderful Life to work on with her students, but there wasn't one so she asked Landry, a fan of the film, to write one. It premiered there in 1991. The stage version concentrates more on Pottersville, what Bedford Falls becomes if protagonist George Bailey were never born. The play spread to a couple other theaters over the next few years.

In 1996, Landry wrote another adaptation, the one performed at the Mark Twain House, in the style of a live radio show that has actually been broadcasted on the radio. The premier of his play was performed at the Stamford Center for the Arts in Connecticut.

"The reason it turned from a full stage version to a radio play was I was really fascinated with the radio play version of story telling," Landry said. "I thought that it was an interesting way to tell a larger story in a smaller way. I was was also really fascinated with the Woody Allen film, Radio Days, so that was inspiration as well. It also fits very well with the story being set in the period of sort of the hay day of live radio."

He has also written other radio plays, including one based on Meet Me in St. Louis and another called Vintage Hitchcock: A Live Radio Play based on "three early Hitchcock films."

The Saturday evening performance of the show was sold out in advance. 

One audience member commented that he hopes It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play becomes an annual holiday tradition at The Mark Twain House.  

Yes, please. That would be wonderful!

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