It’s A Wonderful Play

Mile-Square Theater’s ‘Wonderful Life’ continues for three more weeks

I have a confession to make: I’ve never seen the movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
Considering how omnipresent it is – especially this time of year – that’s like saying I’ve never seen “Shawshank Redemption,” or “Star Wars” or the moon. I’ve seen all those. They’re amazing. So, too, is Mile Square Theatre’s production of “It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play.”
I always figured, “Why watch ‘It’s A Wonderful Life?’ I get the gist of it: It’s Christmas, be nice, be grateful, something about angel’s wings, eat a holiday goose and hug your kid. Great. Love it. Queue up ‘Empire Strikes Back.’ ”
Boy, was I wrong. There is so much more to the story, and Mile Square Theatre tells it with an engaging, lively, and spirited adventure of imagination and joy.
Once again tapping the immense talents of set designer Matthew Fick, every inch of the theatre – from the last row of seats to the secret passages behind the stage – is transformed into the 1940s radio studio of WMST.
From the moment we enter this studio, we are swept up in wonder. The space looks, sounds, and even smells like a Christmas-time radio production, and the cast radiates a warmth and glee that’s infectious and endearing. It’s impossible not to smile, even for a self-professed Grinch.
Most people already know the details of this story about ambition, values, and small town virtue. For those who do, and those who don’t – like your kid, a foreign exchange student, or this reviewer – “It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” is the perfect way to experience it for the first or fiftieth time.

What is a radio play?

What is a radio play? It’s a broadcast of a multi-character and intricately-layered tale that lets the audience lose themselves in a world created with precision and care. It’s like a podcast, but you download it directly into your soul.
During this “live” ’40s radio version of Frank Capra’s classic tale, the audience plays the important role of “the audience.” It’s a bit of a stretch, but inspired by the professionals on stage, we in the crowd were more than up to the task.
The real stars of the show are the fantastic acting ensemble that fills the stage with energy and delight. Every performer shines in his or her own way. Graydon Long’s George Bailey carries himself with handsome gravitas worthy of someone who could be Jimmy Stewart’s grandson. Maggie Weston gives a knockout performance as both a smitten voice actress and the charming beauty Mary Bailey.
We can’t look away as Joel van Liew steals many a scene with his animated voices and characters, splashing the stage with color with every word. Imagine watching Hank Azaria, Nancy Cartwright, or Harry Shearer single-handedly roll through their characters from “The Simpsons.” That’s what it’s like to watch van Liew master his domain (though, given the times, his greedy, selfish Mr. Potter is a bit more realistic than Shearer’s ehhhhh-xcellent Mr. Burns).
Michelle David is a genuine sparkplug, delivering a jolt of heartfelt enthusiasm each time she approaches the mic. Patrick Massey is somehow both demented and grounded in his many roles, notably the eager angel, Clarence – you know, the one who wants his wings. Matt Bittner plays the artist – adding sound effects to the broadcast with all manner of crazy contraption – with charm, pleasure, and a sly self-awareness that makes you want to stick him in your pocket to save for a rainy day.
The whole team is expertly directed by Mark Cirnigliario, who lets each performer find moments ranging from lavish and large to subtle and sublime. They’re funny, they’re touching, and they’re emotional, optimistic and real.
Whether you know the story, are a fan of first-class theatre, or just want an exhilarating evening of treats and treasures, “It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” is a totally immersive experience at Mile Square Theatre that should not be missed.
I had never seen it before. Now I can’t wait to see it again.
Also, you’re supposed to laugh, smile and bawl like a little baby through the whole thing, right? Asking for a friend.

When to see it

“It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” is recommended for audiences 7 and up. It runs Nov. 30 through Dec. 18, Wednesday through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4 at 3 p.m. 3pm is SOLD OUT.
Tickets are $30, or $18 for students/seniors. Find out more at

Jeff Kreisler is an author, comedian and Grinch living amongst all the Whos in Whoville.

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