‘It’s a Wondeful Life: A Live Radio Play’ opens Dec. 9

It’s one of those old films that will never be forgotten, or out of TV rotation. It’s a Wonderful Life, the iconic 1946 Frank Capra holiday film starring Jimmy Stewart, has been a yuletide staple for decades.

The Breckenridge Backstage Theatre is presenting a different take on the story: telling it as though it’s a live radio play from the 1940s. It’s a Wondeful Life: A Live Radio Play, which dates to 1996, was created by playwright Joe Landry, who wrote it as a favor to a friend interested in a stage version of the film for her high school class.

Director Mark Ragan said it’s a timeless tale lots of people can relate to — especially around this time of year.

“It’s immensely entertaining, everyone knows the story,” Ragan says. “It’s sweet, heartwarming, with all the elements we love about the movie but with this added element of nostalgia.”

He says the show is a play within a play, with the action taking place in a radio studio where five actors perform dozens of parts.

“And the theatre audience is the radio studio audience, and the actors have both their radio names and roles and their It’s a Wonderful Life roles.”

There’s even a foley operator — the guy who adds all the sound effects live alongside the actors.

As assistant director, Branden Smith has been invaluable, Ragan said.

“He’s essentially acting as the producer, and he’s this one-man whirlwind of activity who built the set, he’s overseeing lighting and sound, he’s everywhere.”

Ragan and Smith have been going the extra mile to make the production a special one for audiences.

To set the scene before theatre-goers even enter the performance space: ushers dressed in 1940s costumes — little hat and all — and on “On Air” sign in the lobby.

“The key to It’s a Wonderful Life: Live Radio Play is the way you make the audience feel,” Ragan says. “It’s not just what’s coming from the stage, it means everything. I’m looking to try to create an immersive experience, with plenty of audience interaction, offstage antics — that kind of thing.”

Another important element, Ragan says, is the Town of Breckenridge itself.

“I think about Breck in winter, maybe 8 or 9 at night — it reminds me of Bedford Falls,” he says. “It has that really warm feeling to it: the bright lights, decorations, the good cheer spilling out of the taverns and the bars. Although of course, Bedford Falls is not quite as affluent as Breck.”

Drawing on his involvement with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival (where he played Laertes, Aeolis and Menelaus in The Odyssey last summer), Ragan assembled what he calls an “impressive” cast.

“One of the strongest things about this production, what I’m most proud of, is this amazing cast — some of whom I recruited from CSF.”

The cast:

(all play multiple parts)

  • Jacob Dresch as George Bailey
  • Kate Parkin as Mary Bailey
  • Lauren Dennis as Violet
  • Seth Palmer Harris as Clarence
  • Charles “Chip” Smith
  • Mark Ragan as Joseph, announcer, Peter