The Classic Radio Road Show gifted their audience by wrapping up 2020 with a Christmas classic. The company presented an audio only version of the Holiday staple It’s a Wonderful Life. The performance took place live via Zoom on December 19th.
The company presented a retelling of George Bailey’s (voiced by Duane Noch) discovery of his own worth. George lived his entire life in the same Bedford Falls, NY community. He married a local woman, Mary Hatch (Marcia Finn), after succeeding his father at the Building and Loan Association. They then had three children.
A scandal rocked George’s settled existence. One of his associates, his Uncle Billy (Michael Bürgi) lost an $8,000 deposit. The bank faced closure and George could potentially go to prison. He unraveled under the strain. The pressure led him to contemplate death.
Joseph, the Superintendent of Angels, (Brian Hotaling) tasked Angel Second Class Clarence (Michael Bürgi) with showing George how meaningful a life he lived. If Clarence succeeded, he would receive his wings. Clarence concocted a plan to show George how life in Bedford Falls would have occurred had he never been born.
A time revered Christmas classic ensued.
To enhance the audience’s suspension of disbelief, the Classic Radio Road Show didn’t post any images on the screen during the performance. This decision added to the format’s authenticity. It also burdened the actors to carry the show with nothing other than their voices. They executed this challenge splendidly.
Duane Noch took on the celebrated role of George Bailey. Fans of the movie version no doubt identify Jimmy Stewart as George. Duane Noch compensated by not playing George as a Stewart impersonator: he played him as Duane Noch. The artist’s approach allowed him to give the character his own distinct interpretation.
Mr. Noch’s soothing voice made George’s adventures a joy to experience. His voice portrayed George’s awkwardness when visiting Mary’s home. When Mary complimented the old Granville House, he delivered the charming response, “I wouldn’t live in it if I was a ghost.” Mr. Noch displayed George’s elation when he managed to keep the bank open during a run on it.
The actor showed George’s descent into misery with equal proficiency. The tension and anxiety came through in his voice. He portrayed genuine anger when hollering at his daughter for playing the piano. His berating of the teacher who sent his other daughter home due to illness showed a man coming unhinged. Mr. Noch produced realistic crying as he lamented his situation.
Michael Bürgi took on the show’s other famous role: that of Clarence. Mr. Bürgi adapted Clarence’s persona for the radio. The voice he chose reflected that of a naïve character lacking in judgement. (Hence the reason Clarence’s boss was in almost every scene with him.) The cheery way Mr. Bürgi informed the bartender that he was 293 years old best illustrated this.
His scenes opposite Brian Hotaling’s Joseph showed the character’s good intentions tempered by a lack of thinking things through. Mr. Hotaling gently prodded that maybe letting George look for his mother and Mary when he was never born wasn’t the best idea. This made for one of the two’s funniest exchanges.
In addition to Joseph, Mr. Hotaling gave voice to the sinister Mr. Potter. His evil, “You’re worth more dead than alive” to George, concretized the character’s essence.
Besides portraying several characters in the show, Laurie Noch performed stellar work managing the sound effects. It’s a Wonderful Life contained a lot of them. They included an angry crowd, splashing sounds and Mr. Potter’s squeaking chair. The incidental piano music provided a good background during key scenes. Ms. Noch always inserted these sounds on cue.
Most of the show’s performers played multiple roles. Some scenes required them to do so in quick succession. The actors executed these changes seamlessly.
It’s a Wonderful Life included the following cast members:
Michael Bürgi as Clarence, Uncle Billy and others.
Brian Hotaling as Joseph, Potter and others.
Marcia Finn as Mary Hatch.
Laurie Noch as Cousin Tilly Zuzu and others.
Gwen Ricks-Spencer as Mrs. Bailey, Mrs. Hatch and others.
Duane Noch as George Bailey and Announcer.
At the show’s conclusion, Mr. Noch told the audience, “This story is always moving for me.” No doubt, it moved listeners, too. Despite the pandemic, the Classic Radio Road Show’s rendition of It’s a Wonderful Life ensured pandemic plagued 2020 will still experience a wonderful Christmas.