Sunday, December 29, 2013

They're Good People, Mr. Potter!

And "good" is an understatement. I'm referring to the Orlando Shakespeare Theater. I attended the last seasonal performance today of "It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play" and I was really very impressed.

Because of the subtitle "in partnership with UCF" of this theatrical venue, I'd always assumed it was a college production group and probably cute, but likely too amateur for my consideration. (Yeah, like I'm some snotty theater maven, right!) I figured I waste too much of my time watching B-movie drivel from Netflix to mess with sub-par live entertainment.

But actually this group is really a professional repertory theatrical group of actors. Young, yes, and probably many college aged, but professional nonetheless. And if this afternoon's performance is any bit a fair indication of their talents, then they surely have my seal of approval and I'll be back for more. Some cast members, as evidenced by their skill displayed today, would likely be utterly fabulous in actual Shakespearean plays, I can't wait to find out.

Today's fare, though certainly not Shakespeare, did have its moments where the ability for the artists to showcase their acting talents presented well for us, the appreciative audience. The plot was basically that we were supposedly the live studio audience here at the Lux Theater Studios at a radio station in New York City during the height of the Golden Age of Radio. The radio dramatization was that of the Frank Capra heart-tugging story of "It's A Wonderful Life" the Christmastime classic (though in the time frame of the Christmas Eve, 1946 setting, the movie, in reality, had just had its premier a week earlier). Actors were all done up in 1940's garb and the staging was made to look like a radio play production studio theater complete with stagehands, foley artists, stage manager and interspersed with period commercials for products like Lux Toilet Cake, Chiquita Bananas and Sal Hepatica Laxatives.

Prior to the show, the themeing commenced with the spontaneous appearance of costumed telegram boys calling out names (of some of us real audience members) delivering a telegram. As some of the key actors entered the "studio," young teen-aged girls acting as radio star fans swooned and screamed vieing for a precious autograph. The announcer called up a young wounded GI, recently back from the war (World War II, of course) and we applauded him.

We were instructed to pay heed to the large art deco styled signage that would flash when we were supposed to applaud. Also, the announcer warned us, to keep silent any noisy devices that may be in our pockets. "Things that haven't been invented yet. You know what I'm talking about...(wink, wink)" Soon the stage was all-a-tizzy as the countdown started a few minutes before we "went live" and were "broadcast" coast-to-coast to all 48 states.

The story played out quite well in this format perhaps since, like me, I'm sure everyone else in the audience was just as familiar with the film having seen it many, many times. Scenes and dialog were done virtually line for line as in the movie. The actors even acted and sounded like their famous Hollywood film counterparts. The guy playing the radio actor playing George Bailey (remember it's a role within a role) sounded just like an actor playing a radio actor playing George Bailey as done by Jimmy Stewart! (It was all very meta.)

And the guy playing the Announcer/Mr. Potter/other parts was a dead ringer for Lionel Barrymore playing Potter. I was really impressed with his vocal talents.

Of course, the scene where George meets with Potter in Potter's office begging for help after Uncle Billy "looses" the deposit money at the bank brought a wide grin to my face as I remembered fondly many a drunken night years ago when Ric and I repeatedly acted out this scene in total over-the-top style to the utter fascination and amusement of our friends and onlookers. Yeah, we were that good. In my head, at least.

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