Naples production instills radio days magic in 'It's a Wonderful Life'
Creating foley for Gulfshore Playhouse's It's A Wonderful Life: Radio Play Naples Daily News
"It's a Wonderful Life" hasn't been done on ice skates yet.
But American holiday classic that began as a Philip van Doren short story, "The Greatest Gift," has been filtered through nearly every other entertainment medium:
- Two theatrical versions
- Three musicals — Sir Paul McCartney is at work on the newest now
- A 1977 made-for TV movie, "It Happened One Christmas," with Cloris Leachman winning the angel wings as Clara Odbody and Orson Welles as the wicked Mr. Potter, followed by the inevitable Hallmark Channel film version in 2013
- Four radio adaptations, including one annually aired in Canada
- Several animated versions, including a 30-second synopsis performed by bunnies
- And, of course, the 1946 Frank Capra film with James Stewart and Donna Reed that comes into everyone's minds when the title is mentioned
Gulfshore Playhouse is having none of that. The organization scooped up a Joe Landry adaptation that positions the story as a radio play, but brings in the visual efforts involved to make the sound effects. (It opens Saturday; see the information box accompanying this story.) One of the most most fun effects: walking pairs of shoes across a bed of crunchy cornflakes to mimic the sound of feet on snow.
"It makes me want to have cereal," said Andrea Prestinario, laughing. Preestinario plays Mary Bailey, love, and later wife, of hero George Bailey. Hers may not be the most nourishing role — "Mary has no dimensionality beyond George, which is why people other than men need to write plays," she declared — but Prestinario still loves the story.
"My family and I watch it every Christmas and I sob and sob and sob," she said.
She also has found the effects work fascinating.
"It’s a lot of fun. I think it's important getting the nuance of the different foot steps between the high heels whens she's walking briskly and when she walking dejectedly," she said.
"We’re actually using high heels on a piece of wood. The bottom of heels has some metal but we don't want them to sound like taps, so we've been figuring out that difference in sounds."
In fact, as late as Tuesday, director Peter Amster and the cast were fretting over the timbre of the bells that would signal the awarding of angel's wings. In addition to the visual feast, the auditory nutrition is critical.
Andrew Carney is one of the two people acutely aware of that because as Props Master he has to find the right objects to convey the sounds. That included, at one point, ordering a Model T horn to create the early century sounds of George Bailey's childhood and getting it wired for push=button access by the actors.
There's the wine-cork pop gun that someone shoots off at the celebratory moments to denote the uncorking of Champagne. And the metal sheets to denote storm fury. One of the tougher tasks was perfecting the sound of George breaking through the ice in his futile suicide attempt.
Carney's job at Gulfshore Playhouse generally includes such detailed attention to appearance than noise, but he took this on with relish.
"I've had years of experience working in the industry and through networking I've made a lot of connections," he said. He could call on friends for advice and loans for Foley work.
While the public general sees that term, named for sound effects wizard Jack Foley, in films, Foley work can include and dramatic presentation in which one item is substituted for the natural sound to duplicate it better in performance.
"There have been books written about Foley work. And there are bloggers out there," he said.
The one person who won't get to play with sound extensively in this production is Jeffrey Binder, Gulfshore associate artistic director and veteran actor who is playing George Bailey. Binder is speaking in every scene in the play as the hero who realizes the value of his life only after he's shown a world without it.
When he learned he would be playing George, Binder said he stayed away from the film, as much as he admires Stewart's performance.
"You want to find the truth in the play. You don't want to mimic someone else," he said.
It is a beautiful truth, he added.
"(What this story shows) is that one person’s life affects so many others in ways you never even imagine. That your worth in terms of family community friends measured in factors you're never even aware of," he said.
"This play is one of those stories that shows you the merit of human life."
Harriet Howard Heithaus covers arts and entertainment for the Naples Daily News/naplesnews.com. Reach her at 239-213-6091.
'It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play'
What: Gulfshore Production production of Joe Landry's adaptation of "It's a Wonderful Life" to a radio stage, with audience
Where: Norris Community Center, 755 Eighth Ave. S., Naples 34102
When: Saturday through Dec. 29; 3 and 8 p.m. performances Saturdays and Sundays; 8 p.m. performances Wednesdays through Fridays and two Tuesday performances 8 p.m. Dec. 3 and 17; there is a $35 preview at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15
Tickets: $22-$70; $170 VIP
To buy: gulfshoreplayhouse.org or 866-811-4111
Something else: There are talkbacks and pre-show discussions on various dates; see the website for more information