Sophomore Donato Davila rehearses his part in “It’s a Wonderful Life” Nov. 30 as the rest of the cast sits in the background.

Sophomore Donato Davila rehearses his part in “It’s a Wonderful Life” Nov. 30 as the rest of the cast sits in the background.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Theater students to do live radio performance of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

By: Joshua Gordon | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published December 8, 2017

 Senior Nathan Baranski rehearses Nov. 30 for the upcoming Chippewa Valley High School production of “It’s a Wonderful Life” as a radio play.

Senior Nathan Baranski rehearses Nov. 30 for the upcoming Chippewa Valley High School production of “It’s a Wonderful Life” as a radio play.

Photo by Deb Jacques

 Seniors Ashley Brouwer, left, and Charesse Laryea, right, serve as foley artists for “It’s a Wonderful Life.” They use everyday objects to create sound effects.

Seniors Ashley Brouwer, left, and Charesse Laryea, right, serve as foley artists for “It’s a Wonderful Life.” They use everyday objects to create sound effects.

Photo by Deb Jacques

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Most people are familiar with the story of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” a movie that has become one of the top holiday films since its release in 1946.

But thanks to issues with copyright in the 1970s, the story and the movie became public domain, and artist Joe Landry turned the classic movie into a live show, simulating a radio story acted out on stage.

This year, Chippewa Valley High School Theater Director Nick Marinello and his students are putting on the live performance of the radio version of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” That means no sets, no costume changes and students will be playing actors who are performing the play on the radio.

“Our actors are putting on a radio play, and it is a very odd inception style with the people coming to see our show acting as the studio audience of the radio play,” Marinello said. “We will have people doing sound effects, and the goal is if you close your eyes, it is as if you are listening to a vintage radio play.

“It is pretty exciting and a real challenge for our kids and the way they think about traditional plays.”

The students will hold two performances at the high school, 18300 19 Mile Road in Clinton Township. The first will be at 7 p.m. Dec. 8, and the second at the same time Dec. 9.

Marinello and his students are coming off their musical adaptation of “Big Fish,” which they performed in mid-November. Marinello said he was looking for additional opportunities for his students and the community, and he decided to seek a holiday show.

With “Big Fish” being a full-stage production, he said he wanted something a little lighter and decided on the live radio play. The students didn’t have to worry about building elaborate sets, and the rehearsal time was lighter since they aren’t acting out scenes.

Instead, the stage will be set up like a recording studio for a radio station and the students will be dressed as actors reading a script into a microphone.

Chippewa Valley junior Olivia Sulisz, who is playing Mary Hatch, said she and the other actors will actually have a script in hand and read it. They will throw script pages on the floor when they are finished, as radio actors would do 50 years ago.

“We are not acting out scenes or looking at the person we are talking to, and there is no memorizing lines — there is a real atmosphere of being in the studio.” Sulisz said. “I think we are trying to keep it very similar to the original, so people who know the story will enjoy it, but it is different and a cool experience.”

The production time for the play is going to end up being about six weeks, Marinello said, from the time the students got the scripts up to the performances. The cast is made up of 13 students, but Marinello said there are about 20 students involved with the production.

Part of the cast includes two foley artists — students who reproduce sound effects. The students will produce sound effects including taking a hammer to a bag of broken glass, shutting a mock door and walking on corn flakes to simulate walking on snow.

Those two cast members, combined with an “On Air” sign, an applause sign and microphones will produce a feeling of being in a radio studio, Marinello said.

“This is going to be a different way of watching a production,” he said. “The show is scaled down in some ways to find opportunities for students who are really busy, but it provides a great holiday story for people to experience in a new way.”

Despite being a live radio play, Marinello said the show will not be broadcast on the radio, but he is hoping to get a recording that can air on the radio at a later date.

Junior David Volpini is playing two characters — Mr. Potter and Mr. Gower — because that is what actors would have done on the radio years ago. Because both are older men, Volpini said it hasn’t been hard to get into character for each.

“It is really meta to play actors who are acting as other people,” he said. “We are putting our best foot forward as actors and having fun with the nostalgia.”

Tickets cost $10 and can be purchased at the box office or online at www.cvtheater.org.