REVIEW: Avon Players’ ‘It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play’ is a Bright Beacon of Blessings for the Holidays

Every Christmas, millions of viewers take a trip to fictional Bedford Falls to follow the trials and triumphs of George Bailey. This season, Avon Players offers a twist on the classic film with Joe Landry’s adaptation of It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, running now through December 11 in Rochester Hills, Mich.

Jonathan Farrell waits his turn while Kim Bertolini and Chloe Schultz man the special effects. Photo courtesy of Avon Players Theatre FB page

As a radio play, this production breathes new life into the well-known story, while still delivering the nostalgia that so many love. Those in attendance become the live studio audience of WAVN Radio in New York City. This aspect provides a level of intimacy that you just don’t get with the regular stage production.

Over the course of roughly two hours, nearly 20 actors (eight in their Avon Players debut) bring to life over 40 different characters and it is a delight to watch. It’s also fun to see Kim Bertolini and Chloe Schultz take charge of all the sound effects that add another layer to the sensory experience. And just like the radio plays of that age, there are two hilarious commercial breaks, which the actors also perform. With everyone on stage much of the show, they do a marvelous job of keeping in character, even when they are not presenting their lines. These roles are ingrained in our cultural consciousness, and it would be easy to simply imitate what has been done before. Thankfully, these actors didn’t take the easy way out.

Maxwell Schein (Center) preps the audience while Emily Brown and Jonathan Farrell (Front) and L-R: Jack Meadows, Tom Arwady, Stephen Moran, Daniel Muldoon, Patty Hagel, and Patrick Daniels wait their turn to delight the crowd with ‘It’s a Wonderful Life: A Radio Play.’ Photo courtesy of Avon Players Theatre Facebook page

Tom Arwady pulls off the impossible as George Bailey by portraying him in an authentic way the audience can relate to. After the past couple of years, we all know what it feels like to be at the end of our rope. So, when George felt frustration or joy, the audience genuinely felt it too. Nikki Mullaly was the ideal choice to play his optimistic and loyal wife, Mary. Daniel Muldoon did double duty as Martini and Bill Bailey and there was just something endearing in how he played both men. It was such fun to watch. Two of the roles played fantastically by Richard G. Marcil were grouchy Old Man Gower and the villainous Mr. Potter. You know an actor is doing something right when you genuinely hope something bad happens to their character. Maxwell Schein took on the roles of the radio announcer and Joseph. The deep timbre of his voice, coupled with his plucky attitude help set the tone right from the start. And of course, you can’t have It’s a Wonderful Life without Clarence, the guardian angel. Just like the role of George Bailey, in the hands of a lesser actor, this role would just feel like a parody. But Avon Players’ veteran Mark Misch plays Clarence with such care and sweetness. Because even though George is the central character, Clarence is the one who delivers the poignant reminders that George has forgotten along the path of life. And if we’re being honest, most of us watching benefited from these reminders as well.

We live in an age where most of the entertainment we consume is practically spoon-fed to us. We simply show up and whatever we’re watching does all the heavy lifting. As a radio play, I felt much more engaged with what was unfolding on the stage. Almost as if I was really hearing and understanding the layers of human nature for the first time. Director Kevin Curtis says the play’s classic story presents an enduring theme that resonates in the present day, and I would agree. As I sat in the darkness, I was struck by the fact that even though I am familiar with this story, its message has arrived at the right moment, like a perfect Christmas gift we didn’t know badly we wanted or needed. And the standing ovation at the end of the night proved others were moved as well by what they saw.

It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play sparkles with holiday cheer that refreshes the soul, while also reminding us of important truths – Integrity matters. Character is always more important than cash, and one life can touch so many. As Clarence aptly tells George, ‘No man is a failure who has friends.’ Seek them out and hold them extra close this holiday season.

The performance runs for approximately two hours and has a 15-minute intermission.

Tickets for all shows are $21. Call 248-608-9077 for tickets or order online at Discounts on matinee tickets are available for seniors and students; call the box office for details. Additionally, group rates are available by calling the box office. Please consult the website for the most current COVID-19 precautions before your visit. “Like” Avon Players Theatre on Facebook for special offers on tickets. All major credit cards are accepted. All seats are reserved. Show dates and times follow:

  • Saturday, December 4, 3:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, December 4, 8:00 p.m.
  • Sunday, December 5, 2:00 p.m.
  • Friday, December 10, 8:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, December 11, 3:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, December 11, 8:00 p.m.

Avon Players is celebrating its 75th year of bringing quality entertainment to its community.  Founded in 1947, Avon Players is a 501 (c)(3) not-for-profit community theatre located along the winding banks of Stoney Creek in the quaint Historic District of Rochester Hills, only about two miles from the heart of downtown Rochester. Avon Players has been performing shows in its unique A-frame theater since 1965. With ticket prices set at a fraction of those at a professional theatre (plus free parking and concessions offered on a donation-only basis), a family of four can experience a sensational live theatrical event for about the cost of one ticket at a “downtown” venue. And for regular theatregoers, an affordable outing can be an even better bargain by taking advantage of Avon Players’ season ticket packages, which yield discounts of up to 20% per ticket. Additionally, season ticket holders enjoy priority seating selection and voting privileges in Avon’s annual “Stoney Awards.” Additional information regarding tickets and productions is available by calling the Avon Players box office at 248-608-9077 or by visiting the website:

About Sarah Hovis

Freelance wordsmith, arts appreciator, grammar geek, sports spectator, stationery snob, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at

Speak Your Mind