Arrow Rock Lyceum live radio play takes audience back in time

Sunday, November 15, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 3:14 p.m. CST, Sunday, November 15, 2009
Jacob Knoll and Liz Ali share a moment onstage as George and Mary Bailey during a dress rehearsal of "It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play" at the Lyceum Theatre in Arrow Rock on Friday, Nov. 13, 2009. The play opens Saturday, Nov. 14, 2009, and runs through Nov. 22, 2009.

ARROW ROCK — Cornflakes, shoes, a bucket of water and a suitcase seem to lie haphazardly on a table with several other objects. But, they create the sounds of doors slamming, ice cracking and shoes walking on snow.

These supplies provide the sound effects for the Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play,” which opened Saturday. The play is based on Frank Capra’s screenplay for the film version of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and re-imagines it as a '40s radio broadcast. Five actors play all the characters and make all the sound effects.

If you go

What: "It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play"

When: Nov. 14-15 and Nov. 18-22

Where: Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre, 105 High St., Arrow Rock

Tickets: $15-$31

Information: Call 660-837-3311 for reservations or go to

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“From the audience’s perspective, you really do get to see something that appears to be taking place in the 1940s,”  Lyceum Theatre artistic director Quin Gresham said. “The great thing about this play is that all five of us play actors who all play roles within the radio play itself. So, I’m not Quin Gresham; I’m Harry Haywood."

When the play begins, the five actors are their '40s radio personas, greeting each other and looking over the script as an offstage producer yells, "30 seconds to air!"

When the 'broadcast' starts, the radio actors play the different "It's a Wonderful Life" characters, changing voices and working the sound effects. They even take commercial breaks, singing the jingles of hair tonic and toilet cakes, just like the real radio actors did in the 1940s.

Liz Ali, who plays Mary, said it was difficult but fun to learn how to do the various sound effects.

"It's fun when we're like, 'Ah, that's not the right sound,' and we were kind of tapping things and exploring to see what the sounds are," she said.

Ames Adamson, who plays Mr. Potter and several other characters, agreed.

"We (needed) the sound of an automobile engine, but we didn't have anything that worked, so we were just doing our voices," he said. "Then I found a photograph from a radio show where they had a stick or something inside of a cardboard box to make the sound of an old Model T.

"Anne Marie's taken that over with an eggbeater inside of a cardboard box. Vibrating it like that adds to the effect — but we discovered that sort of on our own."

Anne Marie Bills plays all the female roles except Mary. She said it was challenging to work with holding the scripts the entire time as part of her radio actor character.

"You're so used to memorizing everything and then creating the world without things in your hands — the sound effects too, is a big part of it," Bills said.

Adamson tried to avoid being heavily influenced by the film version. He used different voices to play radio host Freddie Filmore, Mr. Potter and George's uncle, among others.

"(The film) just gets in your head, so I think I may be channeling certain people a little bit. But it's sort of my filter on my memory of certain actors," Adamson said. "For instance, Mr. Potter is Lionel Barrymore in the movie, but I sort of have Katherine Hepburn, Lionel Barrymore and FDR in mind for that."

The Lyceum chose to produce “It’s a Wonderful Life” because of how well audiences can relate to the story today.

“One, it’s just encouraging to know how many people you’re probably touching and affecting without even realizing it,” Gresham said. “But also just reminding all of us to hang together and get through what is not a terrific economic time currently. That’s why I decided to do it.”

Gresham said several of the shows the Lyceum has done this season deal with this same theme, including “You Can’t Take It With You” and “Annie.”

“We just need that, I think,” he said. “The whole season has kind of centered around really responding to the world that we’re all living in right now.”

"It's also such a great way to propel you into the holidays," Ali said. "There's snow in the background and there's Christmas carols and immediately you go to that warm place."

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Howard Asaki November 25, 2009 | 8:09 a.m.

Many congratulations on the production!

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