Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ taps close-knit aura in De Pere

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Green Room Lounge It's a Wonderful Life image_1513081636557.jpg

George Bailey, this is your life.

It may be entirely made up, but people made a movie about its meaning long ago. Millions of people have seen your life played out again and again. George Bailey, your life is a part of the American culture. Your life of honesty and sacrifice and home and good ol’ American sticktoitiveness brings lessons and comfort, mostly around Christmastime.

So it is a pleasure to see people for whom performing is part of their soul bring your life to form in a way that harkens to the past and yet is still alive – right-in-front-of-you-alive – today.

George Bailey, if you wouldn’t have lived, there would be no “It’s a Wonderful Life, a live radio play” for The Green Room Players to play out in a cozy little theater. There would be no need for seven actors, with the assist of four support music/sound/tech effects, to populate your made-up life with family, friends and neighbors who could have been in it.

But one person does count, especially if that person is the resonant George Bailey.

Okay, enough of that.

In a two-night run, the local The Green Room Players is staging a condensed version of the heart-tugging “It’s a Wonderful Life” as if were a radio play.

The illusion is this is 1947, and the production is a presentation of the real-life Lux Radio Theater. You are in the studio and see the announcer and the other performers. There are commercials for Lux, a popular brand of soaps at the time, along with two real commercials along the way.

Although a “radio audience” wouldn’t see this, the performers add facial expressions and body English and interact with their eyes as they voice characters. It’s a natural thing.

Tim Killian plays George Bailey, staying true to his gosh-gee-whiz good-guy nature. It’s a pliable performance.

With vocal nimbleness, everybody else plays multiple roles and one main one. Tom Harter is the caring angel, Clarence, with Natalie Terrien Rein his guiding boss on high, Josephine. Hannah K. Blecha is the love of George Bailey’s life, Mary Hatch, with Carrie Platten Liebhauser as her mother. Gary Radke, who directs, is George Bailey’s bungling brother, Billy. Mike Eserkaln is George’s Bailey’s owly nemesis, Mr. Potter. Eserkaln also gets laughs when he shifts from a deep, mean voice to high pitched and oh-so-cute to become little Zuzu.

Everything’s close knit – the seating space, performance space, proximity to the players and them to each other. There’s camaraderie in the air.

To cap the evening, the play is followed by an audience sing-along mixed in with songs that are favorites of individual performers. It’s the kind of stuff that George Bailey causes.

***

Creative: From “It’s a Wonderful Life” movie directed by Frank Capra, with screenplay  by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett; adaptation – Joe Landry; director – Gary Radke; musical director – Brian Gruselle; sound effects – Maggie Dernehl, Patricia Jagodinsky; sound and lights – Josiah Hensler

Cast: Hannah K. Blecha – Young George, Mary Hatch Bailey, Eustace; Mike Eserkaln – Mr. Gower, Pop Bailey, Mr. Potter, Ernie, Ed, Martini, Bridgekeeper, Sheriff, Zuzu; Tom Harter – Clarence, Grumpy Old Man, Dr. Campbell, Sam Wainwright; Tim Killian – George Bailey; Carrie Platten Liebhauser – Tilly, Mrs. Hatch, Mrs. Thompson, Helen, Janie, Carter; Gary Radke – Announcer, Harry Bailey, Uncle Billy, Charlie, Pete, Mr. Welch, Nick, Bert; Natalie Terrien Rein – Josephine, Mrs. Bailey

Running time: One hour, 40 minutes (including 30-minute post-show music performances)

Remaining performance: 7 p.m. Dec. 12

Info: thegreenroomonline.com

***

Post-show music selections

 (Carrie Platten Liebhauser, narration, Brian Gurselle, accompaniment)

“Deck the Halls” – Sing-along

“Christmas Wrapping” (The Waitresses) – Hannah K. Becha

“Let It Snow) – Sing-along

“The Christmas Song” (Mel Tormé) – Brian Gruselle

“Let There Be Peace on Earth” – Sing-along

“God Bless Us Everyone” (from “A Christmas Carol, the Musical”) – Natalie Terrien Rein

“Better Days” (Goo Goo Dolls) – Tom Harter, voice and guitar

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” – Sing-along

“Silent Night”/“Peace, Peace, Peace” Carrie Platten Liebhauser, Natalie Terrien Rein

***

VENUE: The Green Room Lounge is located at 353 Main Ave. in downtown De Pere. With bare brick walls east and west and exposed ventilation pipes and a white painted wood ceiling above, the performance space has an urban loft feel. Seating on chairs – stand-alone or at tables – is flexible and for approximately 50. For “It’s a Wonderful Life, a live radio play,” a 6-by-12-foot (or thereabouts) stage was placed at the center of the east wall. The performers spoke into modern microphones (not the classic large-head types of the ’40s). The building is part of a historic district.

Contact me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays. My books, “Three Miles Past Lost and in the Pickers,” “Nickolaus and Olive – a naïve opera (in words)” and the award-winning “Real, Honest Sailing with a Great Lakes Captain,” are available online and in Green Bay at Neville Public Museum, Bosse’s and The Reader’s Loft.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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