The cast and crew of Penobscot Theatre Company’s new holiday production of “It’s a Wonderful Life” won’t be offended if you close your eyes during the show. In fact, they’d quite like it.
After all, this version of the classic story was written specifically with only the audio in mind — it’s a radio play, adapted from the Frank Capra screenplay by Joe Landry to be staged as an old-fashioned broadcast. PTC’s production, which opens in previews on Dec. 3 and runs through Dec. 27, is a heartwarming take on a parable that anyone that watched TV in the 1980s knows by heart.
With a cast of five main actors playing multiple roles — including PTC mainstays Ben Layman and Mark Chambers, Bar Harbor-based Jen Shepherd, Washington, DC-based Blythe Coons and Atlanta-based Tony Larkin — a chorus comprised of area high school actors including Elizabeth Budd, Lana Sabbagh and Robert Brangwynne, and young Bangor native Luke Cote as a live onstage foley artist, it’s an unusual but charming way to tell the story.
“We’ve certainly had people come to shows and close their eyes,” said Coons, who has toured with the Landry “Wonderful Life” production for four years. “It’s part of the whole experience. It’s a totally unique way of telling a story.”
“You have to say things in such a way that they make sense if you hear them audio only, no visuals,” said Larkin, who also has toured with the show for several years, playing lead character George Bailey, among others. “You have to introduce everyone by name, and say who they are and what they do. It can sound a little unnatural in regular conversation, but in this context, it makes perfect sense.”
Cote, who graduated earlier this year from Bangor High School, is armed with a plethora of things that go click, whiz, pop, creak, whoosh, squeak, crash and hundreds of other sound effects. He’ll be stationed at his own foley table, set off to the side on the elaborate, jewel-toned set designed by Sean McClelland, which unfolds like a music box, or an old-fashioned Hi-Fi stereo. Costumes, designed by Kevin Koski, are set to the late 1940s/early 1950s period.
Music director Larrance Fingerhut, who co-owns ImprovAcadia in Bar Harbor with aforementioned actress Jen Shepherd, adds an all-original score to the show as well.
“I find that Larrance’s music makes us all move in a very intentional way, that’s a little bit informed by musical theater,” said Layman. “It’s such a wonderful addition to the show.”
Layman, last seen as the main character in PTC’s production of “Doctor Cerberus,” has perhaps the most unique perspective on the show of all the actors involved — he managed to avoid seeing the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” until the point that he knew he was cast in the show.
“I don’t know how, but I just never saw it,” said Layman. “So when I finally sat down to actually watch it, I could just kind of enjoy it. And it’s really such a timeless, heartwarming story about good people, and about redemption. And I think, with the way things are in the world right now, it’s just the right thing to watch.”
PTC’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” has performances every day between Dec. 3 and Dec. 27, though there are no performances on Dec. 7-8, Dec. 14-15 and Dec. 21 and on Christmas. Tickets are priced between $27 and $37; buy them online or at the Bangor Opera House or by calling 942-3333. For more information, visit penobscottheatre.com.