It’s a Wonderful Life, originally a commercial failure, lost the RKO Picture company half a million dollars before it became an iconic holiday classic in the late ’70s. Overcoming its humble beginnings, the movie has earned its wings as a beloved moral tale screened annually during the Christmas season. This year, the Sylvania Tree City Playhouse presents the show performed live as a 1940s audio drama, inviting viewers to experience the classic in a historic way.
The story centers around George Bailey, a dreamer whose grand plans for life never really turn out the way he desires. Life’s events lead him to wish he had never been born, posing the question of what the world would have been like without him? It’s a Wonderful Life asks us to reconsider how we look at the small daily choices we make and how the effects of those choices may be more important than we realize.
A lost art
Director David Nelms, a 35-year veteran of the Toledo theater scene, is focused on ensuring a genuine audience experience.
“There are people now who’ve never heard a radio drama, never experienced a time without television, or the internet. A time when you gathered around the radio as a family and listened.” Nelms says the audio drama is a lost art, particularly the sound effects. “Now it’s all digital, but back then they didn’t have that option. In a way it’s kind of a look back at history. You get to see how the ’40s radio shows were presented. We’re hoping the story dissolves from the stage and studio space and becomes more like reality in the audience’s imagination.”
Patrick Boyer, who is returning to the role of George Bailey, says the format has unique challenges: “You can’t do anything physically to bring the character to life. Your voice really has to carry all the different emotions.”
He says with something this well regarded, there’s always pressure: “I feel the pressure, sure, especially because Jimmy Stewart (who starred in the original movie version) is one of my favorite actors. I’m definitely looking to bring my own interpretation, and not just do an impression.”
Authentic and relevant
“I’m very honored,” states Angela Bylicki, who will play George’s wife, Mary. “I was reading the script and I thought ‘Oh my gosh, I’m the character of Mary Bailey in this classic that’s so beloved by everyone.’ It was almost an out of body experience.” Working with the talented cast and crew makes it feel authentic. “I can feel the emotion, which is exciting because if it’s there now it’ll certainly be there during the show.”
Dennis Sherer, playing Mr. Potter, George Bailey’s greedy nemesis, sees the play as very relatable. “I think the story is probably as relevant today as it ever has been, probably more so. I see a lot of greedy corporations that think only of the bottom line, and don’t give two hoots about the little guy.”
Boyer agrees: “As the story says, no man is a failure who has friends. You touch so many other people’s lives you don’t even realize. I think it’ll always be relevant.”
7:30pm, Friday-Saturday. 3pm, Sunday. December 8-10.
$12 General Admission, $10 Seniors and Students, $8 Children 12 and Under
Performances at Church 3TwentyOne
5845 Centennial Rd., Sylvania
419-517-0118 | sylvaniaarts.org