UC Santa Cruz’s theater department starts the holiday season early with its upcoming November play based on one of the most beloved films in American cinema.

The play was selected by the UCSC theater department and is being produced in cooperation with Shakespeare Santa Cruz, a professional theater company residing at UCSC.

“It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” premiers Nov. 15 and runs until Dec. 8 on UCSC’s Theater Arts Center Mainstage. The performance includes an interesting twist, as it will all be in the style of a live 1940s radio broadcast, complete with amusing jingles and sound effects produced onstage.

The play also features live music led by music director Colin Hannon and three other musicians from the community.

“This is a radio-style play so all the scenes are done with what the actors are saying,” director Nancy Carlin said. “The sounds are done by people who are making live sound effects on stage, so the story can take us to a very rowdy meeting to a seedy bar, or to a bridge during stormy weather — the sound effects create the environment. Three of our student-actors are making the sound effects on stage, and we have a lot of props to make the sounds.”

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is an original American Christmas drama film produced and directed by Frank Capra in 1946. The story takes place in Bedford Falls, N.Y. and follows George Bailey, a selfless man who sacrifices his own dreams in order to help others in their times of trouble.

Many difficult years later and struck out of luck, George’s attempt to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge on Christmas Eve summons the intervention of his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody. Clarence shows George all the lives he helped and how different those lives would be if he were never born.

“I play the role of George Bailey,” said third-year Lucas Brandt, “a kind-hearted ‘American dreamer,’ who has big dreams of traveling the world but ends up stuck in his hometown. I really love my role because George Bailey is such an iconic character. It’s fun and challenging having to bring truth and humanity to the role.”

Another unique element of the radio-style play is each actor plays a double-role. They each play the role of a radio host who plays the role of a character from the film “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

“It’s a play within a play,” Carlin said. “The convention of the piece is that it is a live broadcast of a radio play of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ The year is 1946, when there were no televisions or computers — home entertainment was the radio.”

For many performers, this play will be a new experience and challenge.

“This show is something completely new for me as a performer,” said second-year Rachel Levy. “Having this show be done as a live radio broadcast really brought attention to the importance of voice. I love the scenes where one actor plays multiple roles. It is amazing to watch an actor’s ability to alternate between completely different characters in a matter of seconds.”

Pre-production started last spring, and over the summer set designers and costume designers began working. The casting process started during the first week of the new school year, and since then rehearsals have been nonstop.

“We generally have rehearsal six days a week where we collaborate as a cast and develop our characters by running through the show,” Levy said. “A good portion of time was used to develop very specific vocal inflections and characteristics to help differentiate multiple characters who are being played by the same actor. I specifically spent time creating not only a character for Mary Hatch, but for Sally Applewhite.”

“It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” contains a message that is especially different from other performances.

“Everyone goes through dark moments in their life where they feel like they have no direction, or everything is worthless,” Brandt said. “This play provides a great answer for what life means and how one should value life.”


“It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” will take place Nov. 15 to Dec. 8, with various showing dates. Tickets prices vary from $18 to $40 and are available by phone and in-person at the UCSC Ticket Office and the Civic Box Office, as well as online at http://shakespearesantacruz.org. Discounts are available for youth, senior citizens, full-time students, military and UCSC faculty and staff. More information and a full calendar of performances can be found at http://shakespearesantacruz.org.