'Radio' hits the stage - Tucson Local Media: El Sol

'Radio' hits the stage

SaddleBrooke players stage play in old-time radio tradition

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Posted: Wednesday, November 5, 2008 12:00 am

A bunch of gadgets and gizmos lined the table — an old telephone, some chimes and hand-bells, and a small door hinged to a small box, among other things.

Six SaddleBrooke dramatists will make full use of the noise-making array when the community’s PrimeTime Players stage a “live-radio version” of the 1940s Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” this month.

The troupe busily rehearsed on a recent Thursday afternoon in a room at the MountainView Clubhouse, actors standing at the front of the room like old-time radio hands before a row of microphones in a studio.

“It’s a story that everybody knows,” said Susan Shear, the play’s director.

But the SaddleBrooke troupe will perform it in a most unique way, letting the audience in on a studio broadcast.

The added advantage of allowing the actors to use scripts on stage, of course, made the concept even more attractive, Shear said, adding that out-of-town trips and other diversions might have made memorizing the lines too tall of an order for some involved in the production.

Of the play’s 28-member cast, six will handle the 196 sound effects required for the production, from doors closing and phones ringing to crickets chirping and dogs howling.

Shear worked with her neighbor, Bodie Chandler, a former Hollywood songwriter, to record some of the sounds used in the play.

As actors last Thursday worked through the script, a cell phone went off.

“That’s not the sound effect we’re supposed to hear,” Shear said as a few chuckles filled the room.

Shear offered direction as actors read their lines. She reminded them to make eye contact with their fellow dramatists, to “act out” the scenes, even though the whole setup lent itself to informality.

Of course, during the performances Nov. 11 through 13, the players will don period costumes. On Thursday, folks dressed casually.

Several actors played several parts, and when not at the front of the room, they sat in rows of chairs at the back. Even then, the group had sound-effects responsibilities.

To emulate voices in the background, they muttered and mumbled “walla wallas,” as a few of them put it.

“It’s just to show people are talking in the background,” John Wright said. “It’s not easy.”

During scenes that called for background chatter, a chorus of “walla wallas” filled the room. It sounded like the dull murmuring that often fills a concert hall before the lights dim.

As the cast ran through the script, Shear would cue sound effects. During scene changes, she called out, “Music, heavenly.”

That signaled the entrance of a pair of angels that help narrate the play about small-town do-good George Bailey’s adventures and misadventures in Bedford Falls.

In the classic story, Bailey falls on hard times and contemplates committing suicide on Christmas Eve. His father’s savings and loan has fallen victim to a banker who dismisses the idealistic George’s aim to provide home loans for the working poor.

It’s a story that has more than a few parallels to the country’s current economic crisis, Shear pointed out.

And, as the story goes, an angel stops George from ending his life by replaying for him all the moments he’s touched those around him.

During one scene last Thursday, Karen Gurian, playing a character called the “easy woman,” sauntered up to Tom Lutz’s George Bailey and made a pass.

“Let’s go out to the field and take off … our shoes,” Lutz suggested with an actorly flourish that prompted some guffaws from the cast.

“I didn’t direct that,” Shear said with a wide smile.

“That’s good,” one cast member called out.

And, with that, the rehearsal continued, opening night just a few weeks away.

“You’re really asking the audience to keep their eyes open,” Shear said, explaining the experience the troupe aimed to create onstage. “Or they can close their eyes and try to image what it was like back then, listening to it on the radio.”

‘It’s a Wonderful  Life’

WHAT: A “live radio” version of the classic 1940s Jimmy Stewart film adapted by the PrimeTime Players at SaddleBrooke

WHERE: DesertView Performing Arts Center, 38759 S. MountainView Blvd.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, Nov. 11 through 13

DETAILS: The stage at DesertView will look like an old-time radio studio, complete with an in-studio sound effects crew.

TICKETS: $16 in advance, $18 at the door; available online at http://www.saddlebrooketwo.com">www.saddlebrooketwo.com, or by phone at 825-5318.

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