It started with Orson Welles, of course.
When I was much younger, and in the earliest stages of my obsession with sci-fi, I learned about the Mercury Theatre of the Air, and their famous broadcast of The War of the Worlds. I remember hearing it for the first time and thinking it was so cool. (Seriously, take away all the baggage of its history, and it still holds up.)
Since then, I’ve always had a weakness for old-time radio drama. And as I haven’t heard nearly enough of it in my life, I can’t pass up an opportunity to recreate that classic radio experience.
Combine that with one of my favorite holiday stories, then add some wonderful local actors, and you have the kind of show I can’t resist.
Merry Christmas, George Bailey recreates a 1947 radio adaptation of Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life, right down to the sound effects and commercials. And The Company Theatre has been performing it locally for five years. Having seen some of their past performances – including a hilarious take on The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), and Damian Gillen’s wonderful Bah Humbug! A One-Man Christmas Carol – I was looking forward to seeing this show (especially after having missed it last year).
So it was that last night found me and a few close friends at Little Italy, a lovely restaurant just off of Blanco and West Avenue, to watch five terrific actors – John Eubanks, Damian, Heather Kelley, Benji Regan, and Nikki Young – bring radio’s glory days back to life.
Now, I haven’t discussed the actual plot of the play, since I’m fairly confident that I don’t need to. It’s A Wonderful Life is a certified Classic, and it’s had more than sixty years to make a home in the pop-cultural lexicon, so even if you’ve never seen the film, you still know enough of it that you can just focus on the show.
And it was a great show. The actors were born for this material, and perfectly embodied the spirit of the story, and of the era (the gratuitous plugs for Lux Toilet Soap were so earnest that I found myself wanting to buy it even as I was laughing at them). Benji and Heather were a perfect George and Mary, John excelled as both Clarence and Mr. Potter, and Damian and Nikki (as nearly everybody else) fit so comfortably into their myriad roles that I can’t be sure they’re not actually from the ’40s.
See what I mean?
It’s hard to think of a better way to get into the holiday spirit than to experience Merry Christmas, George Bailey. If you get a chance to see this show, next year, see it.
Before then, you’ll have another chance to support the Company Theatre, as Damian will be bringing Bah Humbug! back to the Arneson River Theatre on December 15. I’ll be there, and I hope you can make it too.
Until that show, thank you once again for your time and support, and “be seeing you…”