The Shakes’ “It’s a Wonderful Life” sweeps us back to the 1940s

It's a Wonderful Life

The Orlando Shakespeare Theater is now producing “It’s a Wonderful Life – A Live Radio Play.”

ORLANDO — The production of “It’s a Wonderful Life” now playing at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater isn’t really about the 1946 Frank Capra movie that starred Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, the savings and loan executive who sacrifices his dreams to help his neighbors, and eventually learns he’s much richer than most others in town.

Well, let me back up: yes, this play does reenact the story of the 1946 movie — how George thinks he’s going to lose everything and go to jail after his Uncle Billy loses $8,000 in client cash deposits, and wants to throw himself off a bridge on Christmas Eve. It takes the intervention of the angel Clarence to convince George that he’s had a very positive influence on the lives of the people of Bedford Falls, and that he’s had a very wonderful life after all.

But note the full title of this play: “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play.” Written by Joe Landry, it’s an adaptation of an actual radio production of the 1946 movie, but it’s not set in Bedford Falls, and it doesn’t feature a huge cast that re-creates all the memorable characters from the Capra story. This production is set in a radio station, and this nostalgic, funny and clever play is actually about the old fashioned days when radio — before the arrival of television, DVD and the Internet — had the unique ability to capture the hearts and minds of the American listening public. Continue reading

Review: Teens presenting a superb version of “The Diary of Anne Frank”

Diary of Anne Frank Hagerty High

The Hagerty High School Purebred Productions just did a superb production of the Holocaust drama “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

OVIEDO — There’s a tendency among us “serious” community theater folks to shun high school productions, perhaps with the mistaken impression that it’s going to be something quaint, thoroughly unprofessional, and valued mainly by parents cheering on their teens. You know how us highbrow types don’t have time for that.

High school theater departments would no doubt beg to differ, and insist that with dedicated drama teachers and students who have developed a passion for acting and delivering a powerful story to the audience, they’re just as capable as any professional theater company of doing extraordinarily good work.

Hey, and guess what — they’re right.

A striking example of that goes to the theater department at Hagerty High School, where their PureBred Productions team of director Trevor Southworth and his very gifted student performers spent this weekend delivering a searing production of the Holocaust drama “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

Performed in the Hagerty High auditorium, the vast stage lent itself quite well to the set design of the Amsterdam attic where Anne Frank and her family hid with other fleeing Jews from the Nazis. The set included multiple rooms and even the stairs leading to the roof, where the kids could spend some time away from the adults. Continue reading

Review: What’s with “The Hound of the Baskervilles”? It’s Pawsome!

Hound of the Baskervilles

Steven Lane is Sherlock Holmes in the Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s supremely silly version of “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” (Photo by Luke Evans).

ORLANDO — “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” the new production at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, may be the supreme version of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novel — supremely silly, supremely goofy, and perhaps one of theater’s great defenders of the bad pun.

If you’re tired of theatrical productions of 18th century plays about depressed people who do depressing things and suffer morbid endings, “Hound” is your anecdote for sure.

This version of the Sherlock Holmes saga about the hunt for a man-killing-beast in England, adapted by Steven Canny and John Nicholson, is a wildly campy send up of all things Sherlock, with a three person cast trying in often extravagant ways to out-mug one another. You can tell when actors are having a grand old time on stage, and this is one of them.

From the very opening moment, when actor Chris Crawford comes on stage and hears the ominous, menacing howl of a hound getting closer and closer — and then dies one of the hammiest deaths in theater history, the Fourth Wall between audience and performer gets shattered as actor Simon Needham comes out to interrupt the proceedings and announce that they forget to mention some important notices before the show started. Hey, better late than never, right?

The Fourth Wall gets broken a lot (including a few times in Saturday night’s show that felt improvised) as the three performers make a mad dash for larfs. Sherlock Holmes purists, at least the more dour ones, are likely to find not much of Doyle’s book in this one, but it’s hard to deny that this Monty Python-esque madcap adventure isn’t pretty hilarious most of the time. Continue reading

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