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IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A LIVE RADIO PLAY at Shea’s 710 – only five wonderful shows left!

THE BASICS: IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A LIVE RADIO PLAY adapted by Joe Landry, presented by Road Less Traveled Productions, directed by John Hurley, starring Anthony Alcocer, Kelly Copps, Steve Copps, Charmagne Chi, Phil Farugia, and Fisher runs through December 17, Fridays (except 12/15) and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 at Shea’s 710 Theatre (1-800-745-3000). Runtime: 2 hours without intermission

THUMBNAIL SKETCH: It’s Christmas Eve 1946 and a Manhattan radio studio is about to broadcast the beloved story of George Bailey, his arch-nemesis Mr. Potter, the love of his life, Mary, and, of course, his guardian angel, Clarence. If you’ve seen the famous movie starring Jimmy Stewart, you know the plot. What’s different here is the presentation, like a Christmas stocking filled with surprises.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: It felt right to be in Shea’s 710 Theatre with a big audience. Talk about nostalgia! For a moment it felt like the “good old days” of the Studio Arena Theatre (saved from oblivion by Shea’s). Adding to that nostalgia were the Art Deco ON AIR and APPLAUSE signs, and the dresses, stoles, hats, and suits inspired by the 1940s, and, yes, the cigarettes.  

You might think that two hours without an intermission would feel long, but it flies by. You see, there are always three things going on: First, there’s the wonderful story of a man who thinks he’s the biggest failure in the world being shown how many lives he saved or made better. What can I say? Take some tissues. After all these years you might not get choked up by the movie anymore, but you will here.

Second, if you closed your eyes, you could imagine that you were actually listening to a live radio show. That’s different and fun. But third, of course the most entertainment comes from watching the radio actors step around each other to get to the microphone just in time for their lines, the sound effects being generated, and especially what radio people do when their scene isn’t on. They knit, read, flirt, lounge around in the break area, grab a smoke and a couple of times almost miss their cues. Very funny.

My, what an assemblage of Buffalo talent Director John Hurley gathered. In order of last names: Anthony Alcocer, whose “emcee” voice wasn’t to my taste, is unforgettable in his portrayal of the old skinflint, Mr. Potter. How handsome young Alcocer can do that voice is a wonder. Comedienne Charmagne Chi, as usual, gets the biggest laughs, and deservedly so. The Copps (in real life Steve and Kelly are husband and wife) create some real chemistry on stage as George and Mary. Kelly Copps is one hell of an actress and was able to present a character who knows what she wants with exquisite vulnerability. Phil Farugia was expert at the keyboards and as “Foley Artist” (sound effects guy) including an applause worthy chuffing steam engine using only an umbrella. Playing a very convincing Clarence, the guardian angel, as well as a host of utility characters (Bert and Ernie and Mr. Martini, to name a few) the one-named Fisher was a flurry of action.

By critical acclaim, two performances have been added to the original schedule, December 16 and 17.

By critical acclaim, two performances have been added to the original schedule, December 16 and 17.

By the way, don’t get confused with IT WAS A WONDERFUL LIFE which has charms all its own over at Forest Lawn Cemetery Chapel (up past Christmas, but many shows are sold out) or IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE at the Lancaster Opera House (only up through December 10).

UP NEXT AT SHEA’S 710: HAROLD AND THE BOYS, by Athol Fugard, set in South Africa in the 1950s, produced by the Shaw Festival. I saw this production two summers ago and can highly recommend it. Shaw quality in a beautiful venue with no bridge to cross? What more do you want?

UP NEXT FOR ROAD LESS TRAVELED PRODUCTIONS: In January, RLTP will produce the play “THE NETHER,” by Jennifer Haley which presents a futuristic “Law & Order: SVU” scenario.

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For over 20 years, as a producer and program host on WNED Classical (94.5 FM), he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?" These days Peter can be heard regularly on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5.

On “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?" As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take."

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he was an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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