A.D. Players Brings It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, Complete With SFX

Christy Watkins and Joel Sandel are being joined onstage by Seán Patrick Judge, Christina Kelly, Orlando Arriaga, Patty Tuel Bailey and Craig Griffin in A.D. Players' upcoming production of It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play.
Christy Watkins and Joel Sandel are being joined onstage by Seán Patrick Judge, Christina Kelly, Orlando Arriaga, Patty Tuel Bailey and Craig Griffin in A.D. Players' upcoming production of It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. Photo by Bohemian Photography
There is no better movie to illustrate the ripple effect than It's A Wonderful Life, with its core message that we each have value, that our own life matters and that we can make a difference.

But we've all seen Frank Capra's 1946 drama so many times that, when playwright Joe Landry adapted the film to create It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, something magical happened.

"I love the story of It's A Wonderful Life, but other adaptations that I’ve read don't work. Something was missing, and what works with this production is that it’s the story that you remember, but because it's told as a radio convention it adds a whole other level. It's captivating," says A.D. Players Interim Artistic Director Kevin Dean, who is directing the upcoming production at The George.

While audience members will never forget favorite scenes with James Stewart and Donna Reed, whether in the original black and white or later colorized versions, Landry's radio play adaptation pays homage to the post-war era through costume and a stage set that looks like a 1940s radio station, designed by Kirk Domer. It also gives a behind-the-scenes look at how sound effects were achieved during that era.

The actor playing the live foley artist is Orlando Arriaga, who employs a comb, metal bucket, corn flakes, tiny cabinet and a tray to achieve all sorts of background sounds, including a bell, for every time an angel gets his wings.

"It's Christmas Eve in New York City and they’re doing a live radio play, a live reading. It's being broadcast across the country. The actors have scripts and all the sound is manufactured by the foley artist," says Dean. "When they run through snow, their shoes, he uses cornflakes to make the sound of running through snow."

It's a large cast of characters, but they're played by just six actors. Joel Sandel, Seán Patrick Judge, Christina Kelly and Arriaga join A.D. Player resident actors Christy Watkins, Patty Tuel Bailey and Craig Griffin.

"One actor plays George, one actress plays Mary, we have the foley artist who just does sound. Everybody else plays multiple characters, they talk to themselves. Seán plays Uncle Billy and Mr. Potter; that's one of the things that makes it so captivating to watch," says Dean. And humorous to think of Judge (as Uncle Billy) talking to himself (as Mr. Potter) as he mistakenly fumbles his banking duties.

The concept that our actions have far-reaching effects, originally told in Philip Van Doren Stern's book, The Greatest Gift, and later in the film and this radio play, is a welcome message this time of year. Some of the A.D. Players performances already have sold out.

"That’s why the story resonates so much. One person can make a difference. It’s amazing the impact that one person has on the world around them. To see that played out in Bedford Falls, a microcosm. How [George Bailey] affected the town; it becomes Pottersville. Little bitty plot points throughout the story. He saved his brother from drowning when he was a child, 30 years later his brother shot down an enemy plane, saving hundreds," says Dean.

"You hear the lines, you remember the movie, you remember the story," says Dean. "It's every bit as nostalgic as the film."

Performances of It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and December 1, 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays, November 30-December 23 at A.D. Players, The George Theater, 5420 Westheimer, For information, call 713-526-2721 or visit, $15 to $70.
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Susie Tommaney is a contributing writer who enjoys covering the lively arts and culture scene in Houston and surrounding areas, connecting creative makers with the Houston Press readers to make every week a great one.
Contact: Susie Tommaney