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

Phantasmagoria meets Dickens in a new “A Christmas Carol”

Phantasmagoria “A Christmas Carol” opens this Friday.

ORLANDO — For years, theater director John DiDonna has been a familiar face to Orlando area audiences for his annual productions of Charles Dickens’ holiday classic “A Christmas Carol,” known as “Dickens By Candlelight” and featuring a three-member cast that played all the roles — by candlelight.

DiDonna is back this year with a new production of “A Christmas Carol” — but this time, he’s taking it in a new direction, by merging Dickens with Phantasmagoria, his long-running series about a circus-like troupe of performers who reenact chilling tales of terror.

Opening this Friday is “Phantasmagoria’s A Christ Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas” at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center. This is an opportunity to celebrate the season as Phantasmagoria presents its own unique adaptation of the Dickens’ classic, featuring not just Tiny Tim and Scrooge, but also dance, puppetry, projections, music and the recreation of one of the most famous ghost stories of all time.

Freeline Media sat down with John to find out what his new production, which opens on Friday, is all about.

Freeline Media: You’ve had a long, successful run around Christmas time doing the production “Dickens By Candlelight.” How did “A Christmas Carol” get merged this year with the troop at Phantasmagoria? 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

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