It’s a familiar story that has been shown for several years at Gamm Theatre and spans decades on TV in black and white, but the feeling of It’s a Wonderful Life never diminishes.
Like the scent of pine in the air and the sparkle of twinkling lights on a tree, the story of how a sweet, wingless angel helps small-town loan officer George Bailey work through feelings of uselessness and hopelessness on Christmas Eve is steeped in holiday spirit.
The Gamm team takes on the radio play version of the story, offering a behind-the-scenes look at how a small cast and a fast-moving foley man generating live sound effects recreate the story made famous by Frank Capra in 1946.
The spin draws the audience into the show in unique ways, as talented actors like Helena Tafuri, Rodney Witherspoon II, Lynsey Ford, and Richard Noble shift seamlessly and instantaneously between voicing a variety of diverse characters. Noble is inebriated in one breath and soberly spunky in the next. Tafuri’s voice slides from childish to temptress, and Ford’s from maternal to young woman. Witherspoon proves he can voice jovial, childlike, and country-bumpkin characterizations in a matter of seconds.
The sheer talent of this Gamm cast is what makes the story of George’s angst and the town’s love for him larger than life. Heading the cast is Jeff Church as George, and if anyone could adequately replace company Artistic Director Tony Estrella in the role, it is the multi-talented Church. His performance is endearing and genuine as he bonds with the audience along his heart-wrenching journey to self-redemption.
Perhaps the most riveting performance, however, comes from Fred Sullivan Jr. as Clarence the Angel. Helping restore George’s faith in himself is an important assignment for Clarence, who’ll earn himself coveted wings if he’s successful. Sullivan gives an audible sense of awe to the angel’s voice, adding a sense of wonder to each line.
Like every cast member but Church, Sullivan assumes other roles, including the miserly town villain, Mr. Potter. To experience him slip from Clarence’s innocence to a smarmy sneer as Potter is like watching a master class.
It’s a Wonderful Life is guaranteed to leave audiences feeling lighter, happier, and more festive when they leave the theatre. Between a sweet story, a standout cast, and the riveting antics of Foley Artist Will Malloy, who coaxes supportive sounds from shoes, bells, and the rub of a hot water bottle, this is 90 minutes of pure joy.
The show runs at Gamm Theatre through December 24. For tickets, visit gammtheatre.org.
All photos by Sean McConaghy.