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‘Wonderful Life’ goes radio … sort of

Christmas came to Actors Circle a little early this year. First, the company staged their fall musical “Jekyll & Hyde” to packed houses. Then they added a weekend, selling out the additional performances. They made a deal with DGM Productions to handle technical and maintenance issues at the Providence Road theatre in exchange for performance space. The mailing list of audience members reached more than 1,600 people. They even got a new lighting board. Knowing it’s better to give than to receive, AC is not simply sitting back and reveling in their good fortune. Instead, the Scranton troupe is putting the finishing touches on a special gift for their fans: An old-time radio production of “It’s A Wonderful Life,” under the direction of Cathy Rist Strauch.

The 1947 film version of “It’s A Wonderful Life,” in which guardian angel Clarence grants George Bailey a second chance, has long been part of Strauch’s holiday tradition. Actors Circle even performed the stage version several years ago. But the director and long-time board member was looking to bring a little something different to the stage for the holidays. When her niece, an equity actress in Massachusetts, brought the radio play to her attention, Strauch knew she had found the perfect treat for the AC audience.

“It’s got all this magical stuff,” gushes Strauch.

Fans of the Jimmy Stewart classic certainly won’t be disappointed with the AC tale, complete with George, Mary and the Bailey clan, the miserly Mr. Potter, the angelic Clarence and the good people of Bedford Falls, but they’ll no doubt be surprised by the delivery. This version of “It’s A Wonderful Life” is staged as a radio play, with actors reading from scripts, playing multiple roles, and quite literally, wearing different hats.

“I have them changing their hats along with their voice,” Strauch says with a laugh.

The set is relatively simple, with just some curtains and Christmas decorations, but Foley artist Katie Dooley helps to set the scene with a variety of innovative sound effects. Pianist David Hunisch does his part to establish the mood, while also lending some vocal talent. And of course no radio show would be complete without some commercial interruption, so the cast members are brushing up on their product pitching skills as well.

While the holidays can be stressful enough without directing a show, Strauch is taking it all in stride. She’s thrilled with her cast, which includes AC veterans like Art Walsh and Tony LaRusso, who appeared in the stage version a few years ago, as well as new faces like Brian Bonner, making his stage debut as George.

“He has a great theatrical presence,” Strauch says. “He is George, and does it in every sense and style. He is a natural. It’s a nice mix of newcomers and regulars, and they’re all very talented.”

Even the few items yet to be completed don’t have Strauch frazzled.

“They’re not so much challenges as finishing touches. It’s all working great.”

In fact, the phrase “It’s all working great” sums up not only “It’s A Wonderful Life,” but Actors Circle as a whole. Strauch is excited about the collaboration with DGM. She can’t wait to try out the new lighting system for the very first time on this show. And even though the mailing list is a ton of work, she’s proud of all the names gathered.

“These are people that actually came through our doors. These are people that you know care,” she explains.

In fact, if there’s anything at all that seems overwhelming to Strauch right now, it’s the good fortune being heaped on the Providence Playhouse. She even chokes up a bit talking about folks taking a break from the holiday hustle and bustle to see “It’s A Wonderful Life” and sharing all the theatre’s gifts.

“It just brings you back to the past when things had a slower pace, when times were simpler. It’s a wonderful show.”

Also Playing

The Nuremberg Community Players production of Michael Parker’s “Hotbed Hotel” was such a hit it’s been held over. Catch some heat on Sunday, Dec. 7 at 4 p.m. with a buffet dinner at 2:30. Tickets are $22 for dinner and show, $10 for show only. Call 570.956.5165 or 788.4411 for more information. Reservations are strongly suggested.

The Corner Bistro Dinner Theatre is offering up some holiday cheer with their production of “Christmas Town,” a musical about a dysfunctional family forced to band together to save Christmas. The show runs Dec. 12-21 and includes the Bistro Buffet for $26. Call 282.7499 for reservations or more information.

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“It’s A Wonderful Life,”

produced by Actors Circle,

Dec. 5-7, 12-14. Fri./Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m. at Providence Playhouse, 1256 Providence Rd., Scranton. Tickets: $12 general admission, $10 seniors, $8 students (reservations held until 10 minutes before curtain) Info: 342.9707

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