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Inside ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ at PSCA

Nothing beats a live performance, and at Thingamajig Theatre Company, audiences will get a double dose of that with “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play,” opening Nov. 30 and running through Dec. 23 at the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts.

The show, set in 1946 at the fictional New York radio station WBFR, fulfills director Tim Moore and playwright Joe Landry’s primary goal of allowing audiences to make vivid use of their imaginations as the classic Christmas story of George Bailey unfolds.

The radio play is set on Christmas Eve and the audience plays the live studio audience. The retro set includes “live broadcast,”  “applause” and “on air” signs, as well as photos of radio luminaries from radio history.

You don’t have to watch the script-holding actors on stage to follow the well-loved story. But it’s still fun to see their expressions as they assume different voices for various characters, and to see them work with props such as a glass, which they talk into to create a muffled phone sound.

The cast is led by Craig Dolezel as actor Jake Laurents, portraying George Bailey, and Laura Moore as Sally Applewhite, depicting Mary Hatch. Bob Hite as Freddy Filmore the show’s announcer, Mark Brown as Harry “Jazzbo” Heywood, and Bonnie Hite as Lana Sherwood play nearly 50 other characters throughout the show to round out the experience.

The stage production closely follows the 1946 movie story, although by necessity it zips through some parts. In the story made famous by the film starring James Stewart, young George Bailey has always had wanderlust but his dreams have been repeatedly deferred throughout his life to help others in Bedford Falls.

The selfless George takes over the Building and Loan that his father had run, but when the business suffers a big loss, he’s despondent and plans to take his life. Enter angel Clarence, who has the chance to earn his wings by helping George.

One of the show’s big stars is the live sound effects created by various cast members. They create old-fashioned effects with items such as a pair of high-heeled shoes on a wood counter, a bucket of water for Clarence’s splash into the water and a two-part, specially made wood door for slamming and squeaking. In one of the most ingeniously simple effects, Laura Moore manipulates a shoe walking across cornflakes to create the sound of walking in the snow.

The radio twist to this holiday favorite is memorable. No detail is overlooked, down to the fun, vintage jingles for Dux Toilet Cake-The Soap of 100 uses (used for everything from washing your car’s windshield to behind your ears) and Bremel Hair Tonic. Bob Hite (Freddy Filmore) could sell you sand in the desert, his announcing is so good here.

Mark Brown’s Clarence is jolly, Moore brings Mary’s beauty and goodness to life and Dolezel brings a strong emotional element to the conflicted George. Bob and Bonnie Hite, who were featured in last season’s “Love Letters,” return again to Thingamajig to provide a wealth of characters that are not to be missed — watching them become the children of George and Mary, then bouncing back into adult uncles or friends on the very next line is endearing and a feat not to be missed.  

Old-fashioned language tickles the funny bone, including this exchange about Mary expecting her first baby.

“You’re on the nest?,” George asks.

“George Bailey lassoes stork!,” Mary replies.

One never tires of the lesson George learns in this story. As Clarence tells him, “Strange, isn’t it? One man’s life touches so many others.”

“It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” is rated G and appropriate for audiences of all ages.

Showtimes and dates are Nov. 30-Dec. 23, Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.

Tickets are on sale now by visiting www.pagosacenter.org or calling 731-SHOW.

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