My eyes were open during most of It's a Wonderful Life: Radio Show, a curious holiday offering at North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre, for one reason only. Audience responses—particularly those of critics—are so easily misinterpreted in live theater. With that said, I wish I'd kept them shut for much longer than the brief intervals I experimented with; I sincerely recommend you do the same should you check it out.
Theater about radio is a tricky business, as evinced by shows like The 1940s Radio Hour and Talk Radio. As anyone who's ever listened to Ira Glass knows, audio is intimate; much of the magic of the airwaves lies in its ability to use sound to supplant—or, actually, surpass—the visual. In radio's golden age, fine actors and Foley effects replicated almost any human activity, charging psychological thrillers like Arch Oboler's legendary series Lights Out.
But that spell is largely broken here when the visual overrides the audio, and when that visual, frankly, isn't nearly as compelling as the story adapted from Frank Capra's immortal 1946 film. So close your eyes. Let Christian O'Neill's crisp take on George Bailey take you to a very different time in this culture. Marvel at the cast of characters Steve Migdon is able to convey with his delicious vocal range (starting with that Great Gildersleeve shout out at the top). Let Del Flack and Alicia Whitley's sound effects fill in a world of white and take you running down abandoned streets. Listen closely to Rhonda Lemon's persuasive take on George's wife, Mary. Trust me, it's a better show that way.