The classic, timeless film It’s a Wonderful Life is right up there with Casablanca and Citizen Kane. Now this holiday heart-tugger is brought to the stage at The Missing Piece Theatre.
Quite the clever conceit, the story revolves around a bankrupt film being performed by a near-bankrupt radio station, in the midst of a bankrupt economy/depression, set in the 1940s in Bedford Falls, small-town USA. The show is a “piffle,” so fresh and light it can almost float away, yet so deep and profound a moral message, once stated so eloquently by Mark Twain: “No man is a failure who has friends.” The ensemble of actors enters the stage; most of them dressed as ragamuffin vagabonds, yet delivers a stirring performance with utmost professionalism and credibility. The setting is perfectly simulated, as if the live audience is viewing a real life radio station, complete with script pages strewn and tossed across the stage floor, as each actor completes his/her lines.
The chorus of female holiday carolers (radio girls), featured in the pre-show, is authentic and cheerful, a successful attempt at lulling one into the festive Christmas spirit.
The radio call letters, KAWL, are a clever play on words, similar to the word “alms,” an attempt to encourage the studio audience to dig deep into their pockets and call to support the radio drive.
It was quite effective having many of the actors portray multiple characters with a range of voices (that’s what the old time radio shows were all about, i.e. Orson Welles). Courtney Sara Bell was remarkable, doubling as the debutante/actress Claudia La Belle, and Bailey’s young daughter, Zuzu, with a high pitched voice. The play also showcases the magical actors, Joey Miller/Jude Evans as Clarence, the angel who impresses the audience at show’s start with his sleight of voice.
It’s a Wonderful Life is a cherished holiday tradition, imparting a message of hope for time eternal: We should not forsake life, love, family, and community in seemingly dark times.
It’s a Wonderful Life runs through Dec. 17 on Fridays and Saturdays. Pre-show is 7:45 p.m.; show is at 8 p.m. The Missing Piece Theatre is located at 2811 Magnolia Blvd. in Burbank. For tickets, call (818) 849-4039 or visit www.theatreunleashed.com.
*If you donate a toy for Toys for Tots at the event, pay what you want!