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Radio play in tune with a Christmas classic

‘It’s A Wonderful Life.’

The mere mention of those four words together is enough to make people light up like a Christmas tree.

The Chemainus Theatre is going to a classic with a slight twist to spread Christmas cheer, starting Nov. 17 and running until Dec. 23.

But don’t get the wrong idea about ‘It’s A Wonderful Life – the Radio Play,’ says the theatre’s artistic director Mark DuMez.

“This is not a podcast,” he emphasizes. “It’s anything but a podcast.”

DuMez is directing the show, with the usual talented team behind the scenes for costumes, set design, lighting and sound.

All the beloved parts of the movie that’s become one of the most compelling holiday stories of all time are there. It stays true to the original by incorporating Zuzu’s petals, ‘Every Time A Bell Rings, An Angel Gets His Wings’ and other trademark lines and scenes.

It’s just presented in a different fashion in this version adapted by Joe Landry, emulating the experience of a time when radio dramas brought families together.

“It’s a play and it’s a really good adaptation of ‘It’s A Wonderful Life,’ stressed DuMez.

The story is well-known to most people. On a snowy Christmas Eve, after a lifetime of putting off his own plans in order to help others achieve their dreams, George Bailey hits his breaking point and thinks the world might have been better off without him. That’s where he was sadly mistaken. It takes a good-natured guardian angel named Clarence to show George the error of his ways with that thought and how his one small life made such a big impact on others. In the true spirit of the holidays, George realizes the precious gift of life and the value of family, community and love.

The play is set in a 1940s radio studio. A talented team of five actors covers the iconic roles of George & Mary Bailey, Clarence the angel, Mr. Potter and all the residents of Bedford Falls.

“The text is so clear and there’s so many characters,” pointed out DuMez. “There’s some great character work done by these actors.

“They are in front of mikes for some of the time. There’s some fun commercials and a carol or two.”

An amazing array of sound effects adds a nice storytelling element.

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Each actor brings unique talents to the stage and some are making return engagements to the Chemainus stage. Kaden Forsberg, who was in ‘Classic Country Roads’ in 2022 and ‘Naked Radio’ earlier this year, returns to deliver the strength and vulnerability of George Bailey; Kate Dion-Richard, who was one of the Preston Rivulettes hockey stars in the story ‘Glory’ in 2022 and also appeared in ‘Jeeves Takes A Bow’ in 2017, brings the kindness and spunk of Mary Bailey to light; Abraham Asto had a role in ‘Miracle On 34th Street’ in 2019 and returns to portray the bumbling and odd Clarence Oddbody as well as numerous other characters; Scott Carmichael shines as radio show host Freddy Filmore; and Kirsten Van Ritzen completes the cast, playing characters of all ages from little Zuzu to George Bailey’s mother.

Asto, who’s originally from Toronto but now lives in Vancouver, has done up to 17 characters in a play before so only taking on 14 in this one will be well within his capabilities.

“It’s A Wonderful Life is actually my favourite Christmas movie,” he said. “It’s hard to disassociate how it’s done on film. The audience will love it.”

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Dion-Richard, 39, has numerous stage, film and television performances to her credit.

“I like the balance,” she said. “I love the theatre. It’s my first love.”

Dion-Richard, who lives in Steveston, honed her skills in the UVic acting program and in London, England at the Central School of Speech and Drama.

“I grew up as a dancer,” she added. “I evolved organically. I grew up going to the theatre.”

Dion-Richard said she knew about It’s A Wonderful Life, but did not grow up watching it.

“I know it is such a timeless classic – what a beautiful and important story,” she emphasized.

As Mary, Dion-Richard knows she has big shoes to fill.

“My goal is really to just find her strength and heart,” she said. “She supports George in a passionate and forward-thinking way. She just really loves him.”

DuMez is looking forward to the wonderful feeling that will flow from this show at the most wonderful time of the year.

“I’m really excited about this piece,” he said. “I’m sure it’s going to get sweeter and sweeter as we approach the 25th.”

For ticket information, click here.