“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a holiday staple. The Jimmy Stewart movie is a must-play this time of year.

For a bit of a change, why not see it live? The Gamm Theatre is presenting “It’s a Wonderful Life” as a live radio broadcast, and it could be the perfect tonic for today’s world.

A quick synopsis. George Bailey, an ambitious young man who wants to do grand things, finds himself building his life and career in his small hometown of Bedford Falls. He becomes a pillar of his community, frequently clashing with the evil Mr. Potter, the rich guy who owns most of the town. But he won’t own George or the building and loan that George took over after the untimely death of his father.

When $8000 goes missing on Christmas Eve, it causes a panic for George’s bank. Desperate to find a way out, he goes to Potter for a loan, offering up his life insurance policy as collateral. Potter off-handedly remarks that George is worth more dead than alive. With that in his head, George contemplates suicide, but is saved by Clarence Oddbody, Angel Second Class. Clarence shows George what life in Bedford Falls would be like had George never been born, and George begs to return to the life he wanted to leave.

In the end, George learns that no man is a failure when he has friends, and George has friends. “The story is the story,” says Jeff Church, who plays a variety of characters in the Gamm’s production.

Staged as an old-time radio play broadcast from “WGAM in Warwick, Rhode Island,” the Gamm’s production is fast-moving and fun. Seven actors play all the parts, except for Tony Estrella, who plays George. “It looks like we’re in a radio studio,” says Church. All the character changes are vocal. There’s only one costume change – when Fred Sullivan Jr. puts on glasses to become Potter.

There is an eighth player on stage. DJ Potter, the show’s Foley artist, who provides all the sound effects for the show, just like they did in the golden days of radio. Before the show starts, the cast sings “The Twelve Days of Christmas” with DJ Potter providing sound effects. The faster the song goes, the funnier it gets, watching DJ Potter’s hands fly around the Foley table.

For many of the players, it’s their first time on stage since the pandemic hit. “I feel giddy up there,” says Church. “Obviously, it’s fantastic.” This marks the third time Church has done this show. Two years ago, it was a live event. Last year, it was presented virtually. “This year on our third rehearsal we ran the whole show. It wasn’t seamless, but it was as close as you can get.”

When you walk into the theater, the cast is already on stage, chatting with one another, consulting their scripts and getting ready for the broadcast. They all have scripts in hand throughout the show. “Most of us have good chunks of the script memorized,” says Church, “but the scripts are good to have every now and then, to pick up a cue, especially when things are moving so fast.”

The scripts are also tools, says Church. “It’s a way to guide the audience’s attention. If we’re looking at our scripts, the audience knows where to look. It’s more a prop than a script.”

There are fun “extras” added to the show. It’s a radio broadcast, after all, so what’s a radio broadcast without ads and public service announcements. The players pause to present a live commercial for Greenwood Credit Union, one of the show’s real sponsors. And their public service announcement encouraging donations to the Gamm is very tongue in cheek.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a fun and uplifting show, a perfect 90-minute escape from the troubles of today.

The Gamm Theatre presents “It’s a Wonderful Life” through Christmas Eve. For tickets and information, visit www.gammtheatre.org or call the box office at 401-723-4266.

Frank O'Donnell

Frank O’Donnell has worn many different hats. As an actor, he’s performed in three professional theatrical productions and countless community theater productions. He’s written, produced and directed...