If you need to find a way into the Christmas spirit, Ignition Theatre’s staging of It’s A Wonderful Life: The Live Radio Drama will help you get there.
Directed by Jeremy Robinson, the show runs through Dec. 18 and curtain is at 7:30 p.m.
The play faithfully tells the story of the classic film with strong performances by a large cast of actors. Ryan Matilla is George Bailey, the self-sacrificing banker whose big dreams remain unrealized his whole life in Bedford Falls, the small town he can’t seem to escape.
Short $8,000 on Christmas Eve and with a warrant out for his arrest, George is ready to jump off a bridge when the Building and Loan he runs can’t produce the funds it needs to stay afloat.
It’s the first time in his life the man who constantly helps people in dire straits needs a bail out himself.
Comparisons to the film are inevitable, and Matilla has big shoes to fill. Jimmy Stewart’s role in the much-loved movie was a career defining performance for what is considered by the American Film Institute one of the most inspirational films of all time.
And Matilla delivers, giving a performance that carries the show. Where Stewart is brash and bold, Matilla is bumbling and believable as the man whose generosity and self-sacrifice bring him to the point of suicide on Christmas Eve.
In the first moments of the show when actors appear through the curtain, a sliver of scarlet is dramatically lit to welcome the large cast onstage. It’s a striking visual that foreshadows the emotional landscape of the story: at first sombre but ultimately very rich.
The stark stage and simple design suggests the barrenness George himself encounters in his own life. Being a radio performance, 16 actors stand at microphones to recreate the story.
In shadow when not speaking, the actors burst to life under lights to perform, just like the flashes of memory George has when revisiting key moments of his life.
Audiences of all ages will enjoy the live sound effects produced in real time by Dustin Clark who is a star of the show in his own right. He recreates the soundscape for the live radio drama with its doors creaking, change rattling and the inevitable ringing bell. Clark also earns well-deserved laughs for the sponsorship jingles he sings to lead audiences into both intermissions.
Robinson draws out well-rounded performances from actors who volunteered their time for Ignition’s annual holiday show.
Paul Boultbee is delightfully sinister as Henry Potter, the richest man in town whose underhanded tactics nearly push George over the brink.
Matt Dale gets some of the shows biggest laughs as the bank examiner, one of a number of roles he plays. And Paul Sutherland, Carla Falk, and Michael Sutherland round out the play with engaging, strident and rich characterizations.
Visually simple and dramatically complex, the play delivers on what its title promises: a live radio show that reminds us what is truly wonderful about life.
Group rates are available at The Matchbox box office by phone at 403-341-6500 or online at www.ignitiontheatre.ca.