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IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, “a live radio play” at the Kenan Center’s Taylor Theater, will get you all choked up, just as the movie did (and does every year)

THE BASICS: IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, adapted from the Frank Capra movie, is presented as a live radio play by the Carriage House Players, directed by Peg Merrill, starring Aaron Randolph as George Bailey, and has three more shows through December 15: Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 2 at the Taylor Theater at the Kenan Center, 433 Locust Street, Lockport (433-2617). Runtime: 105 minutes 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, as if we were in a radio studio with “The Foley (Sound Effects) Guy” on stage.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: You may have seen this show before, two years ago, when Road Less Traveled Productions presented it on the stage of Shea’s 710 Theatre and I reviewed it here:

This current production is also very moving, but is presented without most of the shtick and comic bits of the RLTP production. Also, while the large Shea’s 710 stage let audiences clearly see the sound effects being created, at the smaller Taylor Theater, much of that was lost on us. Suggestion: when you go, choose the highest seat you can so that you have a sight line to the back of the stage.

I got all choked up and teary eyed, so I felt as if I’d gotten my ‘Wonderful Life’ fix for the season.

But, those limitations aside, I got all choked up and teary eyed, so I felt as if I’d gotten my “Wonderful Life” fix for the season. It all comes down to the director (Peg Merrill) and the actors who did a fine job.

Aaron Randolph, a Niagara University graduate, plays George Bailey, and does not imitate Jimmy Stewart (who starred in the Frank Capra movie) but he’s not “off” either and completely draws you in. Mary Bailey is played by Sarah Hill with the right blend of practicality and charm. Les Bailey, who according to his bio has appeared in or directed over 90 shows is quite convincing as both gruff Mr. Potter and dotty Clarence, the guardian angel who wants to earn his wings. Margo Davis, Betsy Ross Visciano, and Jason Mussachio provide a number of utility roles. And the hard-working Peter D’Angelo plays “Foley” the sound effects guy, who gets his hands wet (literally) creating a number of audio cues. As mentioned, he does a great job, but part of the fun of this play is watching the effects being created, and sitting in the front row we couldn’t see that very well.

UP NEXT: THE DINING ROOM by beloved Buffalo-born playwright A.R. (“Pete”) Gurney, presented by the Carriage House Players at the Kenan Center’s Taylor Theater (which is, actually, an old carriage house) in April, 2020.

*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 20 years, as program host on Classical 94.5 WNED and continuing on-stage with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, 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?"

As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take." And, on “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM and Saturday afternoons at 5:55 p.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?"

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 has been an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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