I got tickets for the opening night at Mile Square Theatre’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life” in Hoboken, one of the three different productions of the show in Hudson County this year. I had a great time and wrote this review on NJ.com.
Mile Square Theatre’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ gives fresh feel to classic tale
Mile Square Theatre’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life” is, in a word, wonderful.
The Hoboken-based company’s live 1940’s radio show production is apparently not the most unique take on the Christmas classic – there are two other productions of the play as a radio show in Hudson County – but they make the concept fresh, fun and exciting.
The set is sweet and intimate, with a piano and sound effects station to one side – the play’s soundtrack is brilliantly provided live by Foley artist and musical director Sam McUmber – and refreshments for the radio actors on the other. Overall, the set feels authentic and comfortable, and transports the audience to 1946 with help from charming period costumes.
Some of the best moments are when the company plays fully into the concept. For example, the cast stages musical commercials for real-life sponsors Battaglia’s Home and The Clinton Social which poke fun at the old adverts without seeming insincere.
Unfortunately, the play’s low notes are when it completely forgets it’s a radio play. Sometimes the actors speak too far away from the mics or carelessly make background noise during downtime – things real broadcast professionals would never do.
It’s easy to forget, however, that it’s a radio play. The actors move about the stage – even dancing a few numbers, which obviously wouldn’t directly benefit a listening audience – and always deliver with full emotion. John Keller, who plays George Bailey, stands out and somehow pulls off the character’s sudden switch from brave dreamer to desperate, hopeless suicidal.
During the dramatic second act of the play, in which “Angel Second Class” Clarence Oddbody (played by the consistently hilarious, slapsticky Jon Bass) shows George just how much his life has meant to others, the play’s message hits home. Audience members can’t help but think, “Wow, what a difference one person could make – that I could make.” Magically, MST makes that realization feel fresh, like the timeless film – ironically – had never been “born.”
Lastly, the production shows off the actors’ versatility and skill. Annapurna Sriram (Mary Bailey) always hits the right note between bold and coy while Tim Barker switches effortlessly between radically different voices and demeanors, often holding conversations with himself with full fervor. Karla Hendricks has a similarly impressive range, swinging from sultry Violet to uncouth Mrs. Heath to adorable Bailey children Zuzu and Janie.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” will be performed by Mile Square Theatre Thursday through Dec. 18 on Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m. The shows will be held at the Monroe Center for the Arts, 720 Monroe St., Hoboken. Tickets are $20, $15 for students and seniors. For more information, visit MileSquareTheatre.org.