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REVIEW: IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A LIVE RADIO PLAY — Lyceum Theater @ Vanguard University

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

Softening Even the Toughest of Scrooges!

“It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” is exactly what it says it is. A group of actors, supported by a sound-effects man, deliver the lines of all the characters from the movie, dressed in fashions suggesting that their characters live in the 1940’s golden age of radio.

Another seems to have wandered into a dusty, deserted old radio studio and sees the others as ghosts. In short order he is interacting with them. In fact, he finds himself cast in the role of George Bailey, originally played by Jimmy Stewart.


“It's a Wonderful Life” is nearly as well known to most of us as Dickens' “A Christmas Carol,” which it closely resembles. Good old "mossback George," as his pals call him, is the quintessential everyman, hardworking but driven by love and duty more than a quest for the almighty dollar.


Growing up in Bedford Falls, New York, George Bailey has big plans to travel the world and become an architect or city planner. But little twists of fate keep intervening. His father has a stroke. The Depression hits, causing the run on the banks. The town's richest man, evil old Mr. Potter, tries to muscle in on the Bailey family business, a struggling building-and-loan that helps working folk build houses and move out of Potter's high-rent shacks.


Instead of going abroad and then to college, George stays behind. His younger brother, Harry, gets the breaks, using George's savings to earn a degree. He then takes a wife and snags a good job in another city. When absent-minded old Uncle Billy accidentally hands an $8,000 bank deposit to Mr. Potter, George panics. With Potter seizing the chance to ruin the humble Baileys, George sees suicide — and the insurance settlement after his death — as the only way out.


But George's desperate jump into an icy river is foiled by the appearance of Clarence, a 292-year-old guardian angel sent to earth to prove to George that his life is worth living. To do that, he guides George on a Christmas Eve tour of snowy Bedford Falls, showing him what life there would've been like had he never been born.

Without George to keep her from it, Violet, the town's tarty beauty, has descended into prostitution. Old pharmacist Mr. Gower is a rummy bum, having done time in the pen for dispensing poison since young George wasn't around to stop him. George's wife is a spinster librarian. And Potter has turned the village into a noisy, dirty "Pottersville."


But a determined Clarence manages to turn George around, and lift him from his depression. Suddenly, George Bailey is a man with a reawakened appreciation of his life and the people he loves. As a result, a sweet, little old angel gets his wings. It was almost like witnessing a Christmas miracle! So, did my heart grow three sizes today just by watching?


Well, it's more likely that I was won over by the charm and enthusiasm of the acting ensemble, with voices as warm as cocoa, who, many times switched accents, tone and cadence on a dime. And let's not underestimate the power of the story, which incorporates nice guy vs. rich creep, power for the underdog, the love of your family and the hope that choosing to do the right thing in some way makes a difference in the world.

So, if you adored the original, you’ll likely feel the same about this perfectly sweet production at Vanguard University’s Lyceum Theater, which has amped up the cuteness considerably. In it (except for his one lapse into despair), George remains saintly and forbearing; Mr. Potter remains money-grubbing and evil-minded; and Angel Second Class Clarence, still twinkles. But unlike watching it on TV, you'll be able to clap for these performances. No applause sign needed.


IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A LIVE RADIO PLAY, With Book by Joe Landry; Artistic Direction by Preston Butler III; Assistant Directed by Audrey Gall; Scenic Designer/Tech Director/Audio by Paul Eggington; Costume & Makeup Design by Lia Hansen; Lighting Design by Garrett Spady; Department Chair Susan K. Berkompas; Theatre Manager Lily Hinojosa; Production Manager Alyssa Kammerer.

WITH: Luke Desmond as George Bailey; Sadie Alexander as Mary Hatch; Yasmine Reid as Josephine; Rylee Schmidt as Clarice; Elijah Munck as Freddie Filmore, Peter Bailey, Sam Wainwright, Horace, Old Man Collins, Mr. Welch; Alex Edwards as Potter, Binky; Greg Dodd as Billy, Bert, Gower, Martini; Matthew Barge as Harry Bailey, Pete, Ed, Nick, Ernie; Madison Combe as Violet Bick, Matilda, Schultz, Janie; Jaden Massaro as Rose Bailey, Dr. Campbell, Mrs. Thompson, Sadie; Madison Melendes as Mrs. Hatch, Ruth Dakin, Zuzu, Bridge Keeper; Mariela Williams as Stage Manager, Film Director, Charlie; Angel Martin as Tommy, Man, Cop.


THE CREW: Jordan Ward, Jenna Bolar, Sarah Snow, Julia Flores, Ruth Gray, Amanda Marcos, Gabi Paul, Kendra Barnhart, Nathan Gall, Rezia Landers, Ethan Munk, Andie Hahn, Naomi Hogan, Natalia Elizalde, Nathan Kibbe


All performances are presented on the campus of Vanguard University, in the Lyceum Theater. Ticket prices are $17 for general admission and $15 for seniors, children, college students and groups. Tickets may be purchased at or by calling the Theatre Department box office at 714-668-6145. Performance dates and times are November 30 at 7:30 pm; December 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 9 at 7:30 pm; and December 2, 3, 9, 10 at 2:00pm.


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