In terms of iconic Christmas productions, Frank Capra’s "It’s A Wonderful Life" is probably on everyone’s top 10 list. So, when I heard that a benefit production of the radio stage play was in need of a Ma Bailey to play the mother of the original Jimmy Stewart character’s George Bailey, how could I say no?
As a journalist who’s done her share of voice-over work and radio hosting, along with acting in commercials and onstage in Los Angeles, this seemed like a no-brainer. But this hybrid of a stage play and a radio production can, at times, be confounding.
As actors, we are challenged to exude larger-than-life voices for the radio — while keeping it real in a roomful of theatergoers.
The production has no shortage of talent. Veteran actor Lance Nichols, who plays the Superintendent of Angels, has been in more than 100 films and TV shows including "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and the award-winning HBO series "Treme." Lance is from New Orleans but lived for nearly 24 years in Los Angeles and now is back.
You can count the ingredients for the classic whiskey old fashioned on the fingers of one hand.
The ringleader (director and producer) of this production is Stephen James, a British chap who came to the States 21 years ago and founded The NOLA Voice Talent Foundation. James is both a voice-over talent and coach, as well as an actor and agent. In our play, he’s Clarence Odbody, Angel Second Class, who saves George Bailey from himself.
“This is our 10th year, and the first year we’ve really publicized it. Our proceeds go to various nonprofits, including The Crescent City Lights Youth Theater. When you see a student with cerebral palsy who’s got an ambition to read audiobooks, and you can help, there’s nothing better,” he said.
Our lead George Bailey, played by Bill Lee, is in his 10th year. If you close your eyes, you’ll hear Jimmy Stewart.
The New Orleans-style house party for Professor Longhair’s 100th birthday will be, appropriately, in the house built by his reputation.
“I’ve been doing voice-overs and TV commercials for quite a while now, and when I conveyed my ambition to do an old-time radio stage play to Stephen (James), he said, 'Let’s do it.' That was 2009 and the rest is history.”
Playing George Bailey’s wife Mary for the fifth year is (co-lead) Lorraine LeBlanc, a longtime theater actor who’s from New Orleans, but has lived and acted in New York, Minneapolis and Los Angeles and performed locally at Southern Rep and the Contemporary Arts Center.
The evil Mr. Potter is played to a T for year two by Paul Eubanks, who's originally from Memphis, Tennessee, but has spent most of his life on the road as a professional wrestler, both in the ring and as an announcer.
And if you hear Italian booming out from the stage, it’s co-director and actor George Trahanis, who plays Martini’s namesake bar owner in the imaginary town of Bedford Falls. Trahanis lived and worked as an actor and director onstage, in film and on TV in NYC until 2015, when he escaped the brutal winters, moving to New Orleans.
Can’t decide whether you love or loathe the Christmas season? Neither can Judith Owen.
The production is interactive, with audience members booing and hissing while being entertained by our own queen of sound effects, Marsha Preston, or the town harlot Violet Bick, played by Alyssa Diamond, or even the drunken drugstore pharmacist Mr. Gower, played by daytime attorney Jack Quarles.
Like the actors, audio engineers Ronni Brant and Rudy Dixon have generously donated their time.
The stage play takes place at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 21 at Café Istanbul, 2372 St. Claude Ave., in the Bywater. The radio broadcast will be simulcast on WGSO 990-AM, the station from which our narrator, Jeff Crouere, does his daily talkfest, “Ringside Politics.”
The $20 tickets are on sale through Eventbrite at wonderfullifenola.com.
All proceeds go to charity.