If you love the Frank Capra classic holiday film “It’s a Wonderful Life” as much as most people, get yourself over to the Avon Players in Rochester Hills for a wonderful treat. Their current production, which opened last weekend, is staged as a 1940s-era radio broadcast of that Christmas favorite. The performers are all dressed in those great ‘40s fashions (Tina Peterson), the scenic design (Bryan Clifford) places the story in the art deco studios of “WAVN,” and the audience is in on the fun – following cues to laugh and clap it up for the “listeners at home by the Philco.”
The production is billed as Marty Bufalini’s It’s a Wonderful Life – A Live Radio Play, and Mr. Bufalini not only directs the show he adapted for radio but also performs as the curmudgeonly Mr. Potter plus other characters. Marty Bufalini’s adaptation has previously been performed throughout the Detroit area, but you may know him better as an on-air personality on WWJ-AM950. He is an accomplished film and television actor, appearing in films such as "Gran Torino" and recently on AMC’s "Low Winter Sun."
This “radio” version of “It’s a Wonderful Life” is as moving as ever, and the entire ensemble stays true to the play-within-a-play format of WWII-era Americans performing a radio play, encouraging people to buy war bonds, and leaning into those vintage ribbon microphones when it’s their turn to read.
Witnessing any live radio show is a hoot, because it’s so much fun seeing how the sound-effects guys make all their convincing noises. And this show benefits from several authentic sound-effects devices; if you’ve never seen an old-time radio show, grab the kids and catch this one.
Playing the part of the announcer and several other voices is Detroit radio legend Chuck Daugherty. Chuck began his career years ago as one of the original cast members of two classic radio shows, The Lone Ranger and the Sgt. Preston of the Yukon – and we understand that the door used in this sound-effects deck comes from the original Lone Ranger show.
But what's most enjoyable about this show is that it's a true ensemble performance, and the talented cast really brings the story, with its timeless message, to life: Eddie Schodowski (George Baily), Michael Berry (Young George), Alyssa Moore (Zuzu), Mark Misch (Mr. Gower), Lori Smith (Mary Bailey), Jean Miller (Ma Bailey), Matt Druminski (Harry Bailey), David Barents (Ernie), Erin Abell (Young Mary), Richard Marcil (Uncle Billy), Sonny Pacitto (Young Harry), Audrey Brown (Mrs. Hatch), and Mike Olsem (Clarence).
“This production is the perfect opportunity for people of all ages to enjoy the holidays,” says Joseph Munem, Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations for Avon Players. “The Rochester area has become the center of holiday celebrations in this region. Those looking to enhance their seasonal fun should have a bite to eat in downtown Rochester, see ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and then take in the holiday light show downtown.”
Sounds like good advice – but you’d better hurry, because the shows are selling out. “Marty Bufalini’s It’s a Wonderful Life – A Live Radio Play” runs through December 13. Shows are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. with a matinee on Sunday, December 8 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $16 per person and can be ordered by calling the box office at 248-608-9077 or order online.