Theater Review: Artists’ Ensemble presents ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ as live radio

By Edith McCauley
Theater Critic

Growing up in the age of radio, my media experience was the soap operas — Ma Perkins, My Gal Sunday, and, of course, Little Orphan Annie. With no television and few movies available, our Sunday evening entertainment always included The Jack Benny Show, Fred Allen, and, of course, Lux Radio Theater. The current movies were heard, not seen.

With that background, Artists’ Ensemble’s radio version of It’s a Wonderful Life was especially enjoyable. The set replicated the radio studio perfectly. Ramaad Morris’ performance as the Foley Artist (the sound man) gave authenticity to the show. The table at the rear of the set contained every device needed to enhance the performance from wind and snow to the splash of water as George attempts suicide.

Lance Retallick returns to portray George Bailey, and newcomer Betsy Baker is his wife, Mary. Richard Raether is the Angel, Clarence, seeking his wings, and also the villain of the piece, Banker Potter. Erin Kathleen Philpott plays multiple roles, including the local glamour girl, Violet. Tom Dotson is Uncle Billy, Harry Bailey and the announcer. Finally, Karl Maratos, a talented pianist, provides a musical background and fills in for a few minor characters.

Linda Abronski directs, Tim Anderson is musical director, and Jan Bacino’s gorgeous 1946 costumes complete our vision of this old favorite. The original movie, directed by Frank Capra, was the effort of screen writers Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich. The three of them designed the piece for James Stewart, and they later named it the favorite film of their careers.

We have seen so many of the holiday shows over and over, so it is with real pleasure that a new version of A Wonderful Life enhances the season. Speaking to Richard Raether following the performance, he informed me that another of the screen writers’ movies will be performed “on the radio” next Sunday, Dec. 9, at 7 p.m. They created The Thin Man and its many sequels. Another Sunday night radio show would be most enjoyable. For details concerning all performances, call (815) 904-2277 or go online at

From the Dec. 5-11, 2012, issue

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