Do you sometimes feel like your guardian angel has taken a leave of absence? This year’s holiday production by Portland Stage may just get you back into a more positive frame of mind.

Joe Landry’s “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” is a fun theatrical adaptation of the holiday story first brought to popular attention through the 1946 movie starring Jimmy Stewart. It’s a tale of the magical moments to be had in everyday life, if only we can recognize them.

With the stage set as a 1940s radio studio and the players speaking into vintage microphones, you could close your eyes and imagine that you and your loved ones are huddled around some old-fashioned radio. But this play is too visually rich to try that for long, particularly when the studio setting gives way to some fast-paced action that you won’t want to miss.

Director/set designer Anita Stewart has both brought the period to life and given rein to a well-chosen cast to fully employ their considerable talents. The results are a winning mix of classic comedy and heartfelt wisdom that’s perfect for the season.

Photo by Aaron Flacke/Courtesy of Portland Stage Company
Emma O’Donnell as Sally Applewhite and David Mason as Jake Laurents.

Five actors take on the multiple adult roles. Their vocal and physical variations along with some minimal costume changes help to quickly populate this story of a small town adapting to hard times.

David Mason takes on the role of George Bailey, a golly-gee kind of guy who wants to see the world but ends up trying to keep his father’s building and loan business afloat. On opening night, Mason hit all the right changes as his George goes all in, marrying his childhood sweetheart, Mary, and fending off the greedy Mr. Potter, who wants the town completely under his control.

Emma O’Donnell accomplished her main role as the loving Mary with a sweetly expressed devotion and also proved to be a major comedic presence, earning some of the largest laughs in several hilariously-realized character roles.

Photo by Aaron Flacke/Courtesy of Portland Stage Company
David Mason and Jake Laurents and Courtney Moors as Lana Sherwood with young castmates.

Courtney Moors also scored as the vamp with a heart of gold and drew additional notice for an over-the-top take on an Italian restauranteur. The sonorous voice of Daniel Noel ably met the challenge as host/narrator, turning on a dime into George’s bumbling uncle and other folksy characters.

Then there’s Dustin Tucker, who, on local stages over the years, has established himself as an exceptional comedic force. As the angel Clarence, who’s trying hard to earn his wings by saving George, as well as in other roles, he was all over the stage. It was fun to see him add signature comic touches to some of his broader moments.

The supporting ensemble of youngsters were cute, charming and obviously ready to enliven the proceedings with spoken and sung lines, the latter accompanied by Shane Van Vliet at the onstage piano. They also handled many of the sound effects devices that were situated on and around a classic Foley table at one side of the stage.

The multi-level set, period costumes and all the other important aspects of this show contribute to a general sense that good theater is itself part of what makes life wonderful.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.