Returning to the stage for the third year is the Christmas production, It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Drama. In addition to being a third performance with director Anne Nolan’s original cast on Dec. 11 and 12, this play is also the first to appear in all three of BJU’s theater venues—Performance Hall, Stratton Hall, and this year in Rodeheaver Auditorium.
When attendees enter the auditorium, they will be immediately transported to a Hollywood radio station in the 1940s and welcomed by the station’s host. The attendees will soon feel like they are a part of a live studio audience, humming the station’s easily memorable jingle. A couple of surprises during the pre-show and intermission also await the audience.
“It’s a radio play,” Nolan said. “It’s not going to be your typical play where there’s a set and characters who stay that character throughout.”
Each character plays a famous movie actor (real and fictional) portraying the characters from the It’s a Wonderful Life story.
Sterling Street impersonates Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey; Rebecca Gossage plays Mary Bailey as well as crowd voices. Ben Nicholas plays Clarence as well as 12 other characters, and Peter Anglea plays more than 14 characters.
“We basically have the setting of a radio studio—a carpet on the floor, a couch and some chairs for the actors to sit in when they’re not at the [microphones],” Gossage said. “We have four or five microphone stands set up and two big tables set up with the props.”
Unlike traditional radio shows with a Foley artist (who makes the sound effects at the prop table), the actors make their own sound effects. Anything from shoes on a plank of wood or foil on a comb for a siren, to a mini door with a bell, or cricket and car noises will be created live.
Because of the live aspect of this show, rehearsals and performances are never 100 percent the same.
Colton Beach, music coordinator and accompanist for the second time, said the music is emotionally based, reflecting the actors’ interpretation of the script.
“I get to basically play whatever I want. There’s no music written up; I have a script that I’m basically reading off of, but I’ll just write sad music [or] edgy music in the corner if there needs to be a cue or underscoring,” Beach said.
Gossage said music is a prominent feature of this production, accompanying the radio show theme, but it is not a musical. George and Mary still sing “Buffalo Gals,” but most of the singing is commercial jingles in between scenes.
Anne Nolan, director of the play and professor in the theatre arts department, said the play was originally a student play directed by Hope Ingram in 2012.
Department head Ron Pyle’s desire to expose high school students to the theatre arts major during High School Festival made the second production possible.
Since the cast was still in Greenville, a few refresher rehearsals and a new accompanist made the play performance ready.
The cast takes Rodeheaver’s stage, performing It’s a Wonderful Life for the third time on BJU’s campus. This cast, composed of GA’s and staff members, is relatively small compared to most productions.
“It would be really easy to come in here and say, ‘Oh, it’s a big stage let’s make it a big spectacle,’ and there’d be lots of big fancy trees and decorations and the story [would] get lost,” Nicholas said.
Even though It’s a Wonderful Life is obviously not a biblical story, multiple applications can be drawn from it that are compatible with Scripture.
Nolan and the cast focus on conveying them more than any humor device—the truth within the story matters most.
“It’s the story of redemption; there are so many biblical truths of being lost and given a second chance—grace and love and trusting in what you need to when you get in those low points,” Nicholas said.
Gossage and Street said that people might be like George who don’t travel or build big things, but they impact each other in the daily, simple acts of life.
Despite past or current circumstances, people should consider who has been impacted because of their circumstances. Big or small, everyone impacts somebody.
“The message of this whole story is is that man is thankful for this wonderful life that he has,” Nolan said. “The universality of this play is making us step back and think, ‘Life isn’t that bad after all.’”
Nolan reflected on her life and those around her, concluding that trials vary from person to person: from the freshman struggling to adjust to college life, to the senior who doesn’t know where to go after graduation, or the 40-year-old lady in church who recently lost her husband to cancer.
Each of these people will find common ground when they consider whose life they have impacted and who is impacting their life.