it's a wonderful life | dec. 2017
A local group of performers is bringing the beloved holiday classic “It's a Wonderful Life" to the stage in a unique way for two performances this December. The Green Room Players are staging a radio play version of Frank Capra's 1946 movie, complete with live sound effects and musical accompaniment.
If you've been living in the wilderness the last 70 years, “It's a Wonderful Life" is the story of George Bailey. The script describes him as, “[A] citizen of Bedford Falls, New York. George Bailey -- who, more than anything under the sun, wanted to see the world." Well, George's life spirals to a very desperate place. An angel named Clarence is sent to help him by showing him what life would have been like had he never existed.
This version is adapted from the Lux Radio Theatre broadcast from the year after the movie hit the big screen and starred the main actors from the movie, Donna Reed and Jimmy Stewart. It's a slimmed down production that runs about an hour, compared to the original film, which ran two hours and 10 minutes.
Following the radio play, the audience is encouraged to join cast members in a holiday sing-along. From “Deck the Halls" to “Let It Snow" to “Silent Night," there is a little something for everyone.
The cast features seven actors playing nearly 40 different characters and a crew of four tackling sound effects, music, sound and lights. The actors bringing the residents of Bedford Falls alive are Hannah Blecha, Mike Eserkaln, Tom Harter, Tim Killian, Carrie Liebhauser, Gary Radke and Natalie Rein.
Most of the actors are tasked with playing three or more characters.
“I'm excited to play multiple roles," says actor Mike Eserkaln. “It's a fun challenge to figure out how to twist your face, body and persona in such a way that it'll change your voice to make a distinct character."
Maggie Dernehl and Patricia Jagodinsky provide all of the live sound effects throughout the production. Both are experienced with the craft, having performed similar roles with The Green Room Players, Radio Madness and Evergreen Productions.
It's a creative challenge with each new show. When asked where inspiration for the sounds come from, Dernehl said it varies.
“Sometimes when you get a sound cue you have to really stop and think, what does this actually sound like? Other times, you see just a random thing and start playing with it and think, 'what could this sound like?' Suddenly, a child's toy turns into carriage wheels on cobblestone and a candy wrapper turns into a campfire."
Live music is the third incredibly important aspect of these live radio play experiences. Musician Brian Gruselle is the man behind the keyboards, so to speak.
“I get to be the whole orchestra, the arranger, the conductor and everything else connected with the musical aspect of the production. I don't get this type of experience anywhere else," said Gruselle.
Together, they create a unique multi-sensory performance for the eyes and ears. And, a glimpse behind the scenes seeing the sound effects and music at the same time.
“This is something you never get a sense of when you watch the movie version of 'It's a Wonderful Life,'" added Gruselle.
Some folks come for the acting and story. Others for the music and sound effects. The show definitely has a nostalgic feel.
“I love listening to the old radio shows on NPR on the weekends, and this allows us to bring a live spin for audiences," said Gary Radke, the show's director and one of the actors.
Tickets are just $10 each or $5 with a donation of two or more non-perishable food items per person and can be purchased online at TheGreenRoomOnline.com. Shows start at 7 p.m. on both Monday and Tuesday, December 11 & 12.
This is the third radio play production by the Green Room Players. Last holiday season they brought “A Christmas Carol" to life. A spooky production of Bram Stoker's “Dracula" was staged this past Halloween night.
The show takes place inside the Green Room Lounge at 353 Main Ave in downtown West De Pere. The venue is home to the ComedyCity improv troupe and a host of other entertainment events.