‘It’s A Wonderful Life: Live From WVL Radio Theatre’ is now playing at the City Theater in Biddeford. Courtesy photo

It’s hard to find someone who isn’t a fan of the classic 1946 Frank Capra fantasy drama “It’s A Wonderful Life.” For many, it’s the essential kick-off to the Christmas season that couldn’t get better. But this wildly wonderful presentation by Biddeford City Theater hits a bullseye with a “live radio broadcast” that provides unexpected layers of heartwarming holiday spirit.

“It’s A Wonderful Life: Live From WVL Radio Theatre” is an adaptation by W.V.R. Repoley and offers a clever plot anew. It’s Christmas Eve 1945, and radio station WVL is facing doubly-devastating news. Their live broadcast of “It’s A Wonderful Life” will likely mark the closing of the station due to financial woes. But more pressing is that the station’s talented voice actors are all stuck on a bus in a blizzard, leaving only four station employees on their own.

With nothing to lose, no advance planning and only behind-the-scenes experience, the brazen quartet quickly embarks on a new frontier — to present a full “on-air” production with just the four of them playing all 32 characters and managing all the foley sound effects.

Evelyn Reed (Alyssa Rojecki), Lee Wright (Seth Crockett), H. Christopher Mays (Brian McAloon) and Kitty Dayle (Rebecca Rinaldi) are WVL’s courageous saviors who take the studio audience and the listening audience down separate sentimental journeys through the same classic milestones and memories of George Bailey’s life: Young George, college-age George, his father’s death, taking on the family business, meeting and marrying Mary, raising a family, and taking on all the challenges of running Bailey Brother’s Building and Loan during an economic downturn.

When life is at its darkest point, George becomes distraught (and drunk) and contemplates suicide, wishing he had never been born. George’s guardian angel, Clarence Odbody, Angel 2nd class, is dispatched to save him and takes George on an alternate timeline of his life, revealing different outcomes of many milestones and memories had he not been born.

Convinced that Clarence really is his guardian angel, George makes a miraculous turn-about and embraces life with hope and new-found passion. He rushes home to his family and as the entire town rallies to his support and he is toasted “the richest man alive,” a Christmas bell rings indicating Clarence has received his wings of promotion.

The “live broadcast” concept adds a clever dimension to the classic tale. Under the direction of Linda Sturdivant, these seasoned performers are right in the pocket with a specialty genre that relies on vocal and audio techniques and almost defies visual logic.

The foley effects are superb and fun for the audience to see “how they do that” (kudos to Peter Salsbury for props and set dressing). And it’s extra fun watching “the dance” of a precision-guided cast dart to and fro, from sound table to microphone while rapidly changing and interchanging characters, voices and attitudes.

So, I’ve seen “It’s A Wonderful Life” about 872 times and not once did it ever occur to me that the story was about anyone other than George Bailey. Nice story. Nice gift-wrapped messages: When life is at its darkest, there is always hope. … There is always someone who has your back. … What you are worth to your friends and family has nothing to do with money. … Never take anyone for granted. … Always treat people nice. … yada, yada, yada.

But this was not the television film so what about those four radio station employees who just pulled off a most miraculous stunt that saved the station and brought such a gift to its listeners? My dam-breaking Hallmark Movie movement came while watching Seth Crockett, playing George, and it suddenly overwhelmed me: “This is not about George Bailey, it’s about Seth Crockett,” the young talented actor I’ve reviewed many times. What if he hadn’t been born and given the chance to become the multi-faceted entertainer he is today, and share his gifts with so many appreciative people?

Then the train left the gate. I flashed back to the many incredibly hilarious characters that Brian McAloon so effectively pulled off in his years of service in community theater, providing audiences with endless laughter and song … an unimaginable absence had he not been born. The same with Alyssa Rojecki, one of the most professional, capable, versatile and beautiful performers who ever graced City Theater, a woman of humility, no ego, so kind and helpful to all who have shared the stage with her … a devastating deficit without her presence. And without Rebecca Rinaldi, whose monumental talents are consistently divine and stunning with every song and new role, in show after show after show … a miserable thought to not have such a lovely peer and friend.

And you can ride that train of thought even further and dare imagine if there was no City Theater? Or what if you hadn’t been born. Life is most definitely more appreciated when it’s put to the Capra test.

And THAT, I concluded, is the gift that Philip Van Doren Stern immortalized in his short story, “The Greatest Gift,” which inspired this entire decades-long sequence: Life is precious! Life is priceless!

For an abundant dose of heartwarming holiday spirit, don’t miss “It’s A Wonderful Life: Live From WVL Radio Theatre,” running now through Dec. 15 205 Main St., downtown Biddeford, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday Matinees at 2 p.m.. Tickets are $20 and available at www.citytheater.org or by calling 207-282-0849.

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