ACT’s It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play honors a centuries-old holiday tradition

ACT’s It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play honors a centuries-old holiday tradition

Cuenca theater to launch its holiday production with a VIP Preview Event on December 8 prior to six regular performances December 9-18

We may think of It’s a Wonderful Life – the story of George Bailey who doubts his value when his world seems to fall apart during the Great Depression – as a holiday ritual that’s been around only since cable TV networks began showing the film seemingly nonstop several decades ago. 

But according to Paula Bailey, director of Azuay Community Theater’s upcoming production of It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, the tradition goes back much farther than that. The tale that began as a short story by Philip Van Doren called “The Greatest Gift” and adapted by Frank Capra for the 1946 film with James Stewart and Donna Reed has its roots in a 19th Century English custom, which in turn evolved from ancient and medieval practices. 

Bailey explains, “Through most of the 19th Century, and into the 20th, it was an English custom to tell ghost stories on Christmas Eve, a tradition that evolved from winter solstice celebrations including the ancient Romans’ Saturnalia, and the Germanic peoples’ “Yule” (Yul) festival. These stories were often about a man who, when confronted by a ghost or ghosts, changes his life for the better. 

The best known of the Victorian Era winter ghost stories is, of course, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol,” which our company produced last year. Though the angel Clarence,  the “ghost” of It’s a Wonderful Life, is kindly and not scary as are the ghosts of A Christmas Carol, the vision he presents to George Bailey of a Bedford Falls without George Bailey is certainly a frightening one.”

This stage adaptation of It’s a Wonderful Life by playwright Joe Landry takes the familiar story from the film and adds a twist. In it, a group of actors are performing the script in a snowbound 1940s radio studio for a live audience listening over the airwaves. The cast of 13 includes Glenn Gano as George Bailey, Charleen Born as Mary Bailey, Markku Sario as Clarence and Mr. Welch, Mark Deckard as the villainous Mr. Potter and Bert; and playing multiple roles, Bob Fry, Bob Hay, Ray Lewis, Gregory Hattaway, Bruno Moreno, Linda Lewis, Terri Drake, Wes Elliott, and director Paula Bailey. Creating the many realistic sound effects will be Sherry Nadeau and Don Trammel. The authentic 1940s costumes are designed by Jackie Sario. The recorded sound effects and music are designed by Ray Lewis, with Wes Elliott as Sound Operator.  The lighting design is by Michael Phillips and Jeffrey Schmidt is the Stage Manager.

Cast Portrait:

Top row L-R: John Braswell, Linda Lewis, Ray Lewis, Bob Hay, Bob Fry, Wes Elliott, Charlean Born, Glenn Gano, Sherry Nadeau.

Middle Row L-R: Paula Bailey, Markku Sario, Mark Deckard

Lower Row L-R: Terri Drake, Gregory Hattaway, Bruno Moreno

Not pictured: Greg Gonzalez, Michael Phillips, Don Trammel

Photo by Aiden Massey

It’s a Wonderful Life Opens Thurs Dec 8th

ACT will launch the production of It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play with its First Annual VIP Preview on Thursday, December 8. The event will begin with a holiday party at 3 pm prior to a 4 pm performance of the play. 

For $25, each patron will receive, in addition to the performance, a holiday cocktail, delicious hors d’oeuvres from Mother and Son Family Kitchen. Guests will also enjoy the music of Jazz Society regulars, The Ali Agca Trio, in the theater’s  new lounge decorated for the holidays. A cash bar will be open throughout the party and at intermission.

Regular performances of the production will be Fridays through Sundays from December 9 – 18 at 4 pm each day, with the theater opening at 3 pm for a cash bar social hour prior to the show. Tickets for regular performances are $15 and may be ordered online at

The cast in rehearsal. Photo by Rick Snyder

Earlier this fall, ACT announced for 2022-23, its first-ever five-show season, of which It’s a Wonderful Life: The Live Radio Play is the second production. The remaining productions in the season are a program of short plays (February 17-26), Neil Simon’s The Prisoner of Second Avenue (April 14-23), and A.R. Gurney’s heartfelt and popular Love Letters (June 2-11).

For this holiday production, the company will unveil two major improvements in its theater on Av. Ordoñez Lasso. It’s a Wonderful Life audiences will benefit from a greatly improved theatrical lighting system and will enjoy the comfort of new cushioned seats.

Sherry Nadeau, Don Trammel rehearsing the play’s live sound effects Photo by Rick Snyder

For Azuay Community Theatre, founded in 2014, the 2022-23 season marks some giant steps in the company’s mission of bringing professional quality theater to Cuenca in addition to committing to a full season of plays.

All performances will be at the company’s theater on Av. Ordoñez Lasso, adjacent to the Oro Verde Hotel. Tickets and information at 

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