Tantallon Community Players It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio PlayBy Jennifer Gusso • Dec 6th, 2010 • Category: Reviews
Tantallon Community Players
Harmony Hall Regional Center, Ft. Washington, MD
Through December 12th
2:10 with one intermission
$15/$12 Seniors and Students
Reviewed December 4th, 2010
In this version of this holiday classic, the show is performed as a radio play. Therefore, there is little movement. For the most part, the actors are stationary behind their microphones. To really keep this play from being stale and boring, those five leads have to be carefully selected to make sure that they can bring alive a larger sense of setting, character, and action with just their voices. Unfortunately, in this production the leading actors fell extremely short of that task.
One major problem with all the leads was the fact that they were obviously on-book and reading from their scripts. Although this can be slightly justified as making sense with the concept, it came across as unprofessional and unprepared. They could have had scripts that they pretended to read, or the audience could have extended disbelief if there were no scripts. The two show girls who performed in the commercials had no scripts, and it was much more effective. If the director used the scripts to provide realism, then all characters would have had them. The much better choice would have been to not use scripts. They were distracting to the actors and the audience and were probably part of why the performances of the leads remained lackluster.
The second major problem was that the director chose to cast actors and actresses that were, for the most part, much older than they should have been. The character of Jake Laurents (the actor who voices George Baily) is described in the show and program as being born in 1917. This would make him 39 in 1946, the year the radio play is set. Lana Sherwood (the actress who voices Violet, Rose Bailey, Matilda, Ruth, Mrs. Hatch, Mrs. Thompson, Schultz, Zuzu, Janie, Sadie, and Vance) is described in the show and program as being Laurents’ ex-wife and a current Hollywood startlet. Sally Applewhite (the actress who voices Mary Hatch) was Miss Ohio 1943. All of the descriptions of these actors and actresses, and the fact that are supposed to be current, famous performers of their time, make it clear that these should be portrayed by people in their twenties and thirties. Instead, the director badly miscast a group of people in their fifties. This problem could have been quickly forgotten if these people came out and gave incredible performances. It would make sense that the director went with strong performers and ignored the age requirements of the script. Sadly, these were not strong performers.
The third major problem that these actors were up against were the costumes. Lana Sherwood’s costume was very unflattering and tacky. Two of the men wore loud ties that were not appropriate for the period. The rest of the costumes were ok at best. So, before these actors even opened their mouths, they had these three things (being on-book, being miscast, and being poorly dressed) that were not their fault stacking the odds against them. Still, amazing performances might have been able to overcome all, but the five of them did not deliver.
Freddie Filmore (played by Daniel Lavanga) voiced the characters of Announcer, Gower, Potter, Billy, Jospeh, Peter Bailey, Ernie, Old Man Collins, Ed, Pete, Man (At Martini’s), Nick, Bridge Keeper, Binky, and cop. While a few of the characters (like Potter and the cop) demonstrated some interesting and unique characters, many of the characters were too similar and ran together, especially when he had to switch between them quickly. Additionally, Lavagna also had a bad habit of holding the script in front of his face and actually obscuring himself from view.
Jake Laurents’ (played by Dick Reed) portrayal of George Bailey was the strongest of the leads. However, his best work came in reactions and gestures, when he wasn’t focused on the script. Some lines he seemed to have learned just by repetition, and, when he looked up and forgot he was reading for moments at a time, there was a glimpse of a much stronger actor than we were able to see in this production. Unfortunately, most of the lines were read from the script, and his eyes turned down and the audience was ejected from the moment.
Sally Applewhite (played by Libby Dasbach) was the weakest of the bunch. Her performance never transcended beyond an almost monotone reading of the script. She sounded fake and artificial at all times.
Lana Sherwood (played by Juliette Kelsey Chagnon) had a few really excellent moments, and some of her voices were highly entertaining, especially her Zuzu. However, like Lavagna, several of her other characters blended together. She definitely did the best job of making us forget there was a script in her hand by looking up often and reacting and acting with her entire face. She did have some odd and distracting stage business, however, such as taking off her shoes and putting them on a table in the second act. It did not make sense that Lana Sherwood was this kind-of low-class and tacky character, since she is supposed to be a Hollywood star.
Harry “Jazzbo” Heywood (played by Mark Holt) voiced the characters of Clarence Oddbody, Harry Bailey, Sam Wainwright, Dr. Campbell, Bert, Martini, Charlie, Man (at run on bank), Horace the Teller, Mr. Welch, Tommy, and Sherriff and provided some really excellent accents, like Irish and Italian, but, even with the changing accents there was no obvious change in character. He also seemed slightly ill-at-ease on stage.
Another incredible disappointment was the Jingle Chorus. These were six young girls that came out a few times and sang either as part of commercial or to entertain with Christmas tunes. It may have been lack of preparation or just bad casting, but five out of the six girls looked bored, petrified, or both. There was only one little girl who appeared comfortable on stage, flashed a big smile, and sold her performance. That was Adhana Reid. She truly sparkled, and, at the end of the show, she sang a solo portion of “Auld Lang Syne” and demonstrated that she had an amazing and mature voice.
Here is where it gets interesting. There were four actors that performed in small supporting roles and were truly, truly, excellent. Sarah Orloff Hamilton’s stage manager was a perfect character. She was funny, entertaining, and believable. I loved being able to glance over to the booth at any given time to see her picking her nose, cleaning her glasses, or struggling with the head phones that seemed to keep attacking her. She only had a few lines sprinkled throughout the production, but she was living that character in every moment. Equally fantastic were Aimee Bonnet and Coreen Ayr Hamilton as the show girls. Their lively performance as janitors at the beginning, the creative characters they had during commercials, and their cute and spot-on harmonies during the jingles were the best moments of the show. It was always sad when they went back to their seats and we had to return to the show. The absolute best thing in the show was Charles Watley, and he never spoke a word. His truly created a character out of Foley Artist 2. At all times, he was reacting to the script and sound cues in a fresh way that truly mastered “the illusion of the first time.” It is seriously perplexing why the director did not take these stronger performers, who also appeared more age appropriate, and use them as the basis for the leads in the show. All of the talent was utilized in these smaller bit parts. The talent was obviously on-hand but not being featured.
Watley worked with John Battersby in creating the sound effects for the radio show live and onstage. The sound design was truly excellent. They used simple props that would have been available and used in the time, as well as their voices, to create wonderful and realistic sounds that were on cue. Additionally, there were times when the cast had to create low-chatter and background noises. This was also done really well. The entire sound portion was well-planned and well-executed.
The set was also really very nice. The stage manager’s booth was realistic with a great window to see in. The curved-back of the sound stage was clean and appropriate. Little details, like the Christmas tree, added great ambience. The “On the Air” and “Applause” signs were well-constructed and designed to light up. Mark Holt was obviously in his element in the roles of Set Designer and Set Construction Foreman.
Another cute and effective idea was writing commercials throughout that were actually for the sponsors who were advertised in their program. Someone involved in the production did a really nice job of coming up with creative ad copy and jingles, and it probably actually garnered some business for the sponsors. The one problem was that the DC area ads did not make sense in the New York setting of the show. They could have changed the setting of the show to DC and avoided the incongruence.
Excellent set, sound, creative ideas, and performers should have led to a great production. All of the pieces were there. However, the decisions to cast the leads as they were and to then worsen it by leaving the leads on book really made all of the good things about the production null and void. Although the supporting cast and their commercials and other moments in between were truly excellent, they didn’t make up for the other hour and a half of the leads reading the script. There is amazing talent in that group; they need to feature that talent.
- Freddie Filmore: Daniel Lavagna
- Jake Laurents: Dick Reed
- Sally Applewhite: Libby Dasbach
- Lana Sherwood: Juliette Kelsey Chagnon
- Harry “Jazzbo” Heywood: Mark Holt
- Stage Manager: Sarah Orloff Hamilton
- Foley Artist 1: John Battersby
- Foley Artist 2: Charles Watley
- Yvonne Grey (Show Girl): Aimee Bonnet
- Mildred Ames (Show Girl): Coreen Ayr Hamilton
- Jingle Chorus: Renee Banks, Lydia Bowman, Lydia Kivrak, Lilly Orloff, Adhana Reid, Elizabeth Weaver
- Beulah Bickerstaff (Pianist): Charla Rowe
- Director: Jamie Todd Hamilton
- Assistant Director: Xandra Weaver
- Producer: Larry Carbaugh
- Stage Manager: John Battersby
- Costumes: Jeanette Vaughan
- Props: John Battersby
- Set Design: Mark Holt
- Set Dressing: Marilyn Weaver
- Set Construction: (Foreman) Mark Holt (Crew) George Roff & Larry Carbaugh
Disclaimer: Tantallon Community Players provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/5947.
Jennifer Gusso has been involved in theatre in the state of Maryland and DC for most of her life. She has acted, directed, choreographed, stage managed, and held a million other odd jobs. She has a B.S. in English from Towson University, and is currently pursuing her Master's Degree to become a Reading Specialist. She is a Maryland State Certified English, Theatre, Elementary, and Mathematics Educator. After teaching English and Drama for many years, she now teaches 6th grade Language Arts at Magnolia Middle School in Harford County, Maryland. She wrote the curriculum currently used in Prince George’s County Public Schools for Drama I and Drama II. She now writes and directs plays and musical for use in church.