There was a ball-game in New Orleans, apparently, on the night of the Fifth Annual New Orleans and Region Benefit Production of “It’s a Wonderful Life”. And it was foggy, too.
But that did not stop an amazing turn-out on Sunday December 8th for a New Orleans holiday tradition which, while not exactly steeped into the culture of the city quite as much as The Saints are, has become etched into the calendar of annual New Orleans' “unmissables” as the Christmas season commences.
And for those who did miss it – you missed a treat!
2013 NVT Cast Award winner Lorraine LeBlanc (Mary Hatch Bailey) and Bill Lee (George Bailey), who won the NVT MVP Award, during the 2013 production of "It's a Wonderful Life". Photo: Steven Seipel
New Orleans' own The Caroleers opened the show with a beautiful blend of festive songs. The main production, this year produced and directed by The NOLA Voice Talent Foundation founder Stephen James alongside co-director Vatican Lokey, is presented annually by local actors as a glimpse of what radio theater was like in the 1940s - on-stage, at the mic, and with script in hand. And, of course, in front of a live audience. That’s the way broadcast theater was done in those days; and it is a genre which is regaining popularity as a counterpoint to the current world of immediacy and information.
Introduced and narrated by special guest, NPR affiliate WWNO’s Farrar Hudkins, Sunday’s production provided all the George Bailey drama-queen mood-swings of the original Frank Capra movie, with Bill Lee playing the Jimmy Stewart sound-alike and Lorraine LeBlanc playing Mary Hatch Bailey’s attempts at keeping George’s feet on the ground. Both actors were winners of this year’s NVT Awards, and it showed; with some sublime voice-acting which gave kept the audience gripped as George Bailey ebbed and flowed from outrageous enthusiasm to blind despair.
And so it was the effervescent Clarence Oddbody who came to his rescue, played by Stephen James, who injected a Cockney oafishness into the bland character of the screen version to keep George’s equilibrium; occasionally to be knocked off-balance by the evil Henry Potter, portrayed in the meanest of characterizations by Eric “Shoeless” Pollard.
And the supporting cast, listed in full below and featuring several excellent debutants, rose to this showpiece occasion with aplomb, not least of which was the Superintendent of Angels (Ivory Robinson) who towered in sartorial white above the anxious-to-get-his-wings Clarence; while the luckless figure of Mr Gower was played to a tee as both of his guises – in Bedford Falls and that hell-hole Pottersville – by musical theater actor Jack Quarles.
Some performers played multiple roles, which they were able to convey to the audience not only by using different voices but also by changes of costume and headgear, outstanding of which was that of the flirty Violet Bick (Tracy Autin).
Mention should be made, too, of the children’s casting. Appearing in the production for her third year was Aeryn Dixon playing Janey Bailey, alongside debutants Evan Autin (young George Bailey) and Victoria Pike (Zuzu Bailey). All the youngsters put on performances which belied their youth, and there is every reason to believe that each of them will follow in the footsteps of previous “Wonderful Life” young performer Dylan DePaula, who has since developed his career as a featured movie actor having started with this production in 2011.
And of the broadcast: this was enjoyed by an audience not only across New Orleans, but also throughout the breadth of the continent, and even around the world, courtesy of the internet simulcast by WGSO-990am.
Special mention should also go sound engineer Ronni Brant for his expertise and in providing some pretty slick sound-effect cues as well cueing-in the background music – arranged by Jonathan Green; while the radio script and recorded SFX were written and devised by Tony Palermo. We thank you both for your generosity in giving us permission us to use your works.
…Apparently, The Saints won their game in the ‘Dome that night. But the real winners in New Orleans were, without any doubt, the audience of “It’s a Wonderful Life”, New Orleans 2013.
See you next year and… “Merry Christmas Bedford Falls!”
Special guest: Farrar Hudkins (WWNO) M/c and Narrator
Eric “Shoeless” Pollard Henry Potter
Ivory Robinson Superintendent (boss of angels)
Supported by the voices of:
Aeryn Dixon Janey Bailey
Dawn Laufenberg Dr Campbell, Mrs Davis, County Sheriff
Evan Autin Young George Bailey (age 10), Young Petey Bailey (age 9)
Jack Quarles Mr Gower (pharmacist), Martini (Italian café owner), Pop Bailey
Julius Laurent Harry Bailey, Charlie (shareholder), Nick (bartender), Eddy (shareholder), Eustace (loan office clerk), Bank Teller, Carter (bank examiner)
Linda Thomas Ernie (cab driver), Mr Welch (irate husband), Randy.
Richard Bosworth Toll Taker, Uncle Billy, Sam Wainwright, Mr Welch (teacher’s husband)
Shirley Tregre Mrs Hatch (Mary’s mother), Mrs Thompson (shareholder), Cousin Tilly
Tracy Autin Violet Bick, Ma Bailey, Impatient Neighbor
Victoria Pike Zuzu Bailey
Sound engineer and SFX/music director: Ronni Brant
Producer and director: Stephen James
Co-director Vatican Lokey
Script and production advisor: Tony Palermo
Music composer: Jonathan Green
Wonderful Life Production Sponsor
VIP Concrete Services
3 Little Angels Promotionals
Construction Specialists Group
Steven Hunter, Atty. at Law
New Orleans, LA
Construction Specialists Group
LEVEL FIVE: Violet Bick services and donors
The Caroleers opened this year's benefit production of "It's a Wonderful Life". Left to right: Eric "Shoeless" Pollard, Rachel DeJonge, Vatican Lokey. Photo: Steven Seipel
Stephen James (Clarence) and Ivory Robinson (Superintendent of Angels) confer on the mission ahead. Photo: Steven Seipel
Richard Bosworth (as Sam Wainwright) with NVT Louisiana Star Performer Nominee Shirley Tregre (as Ma Bailey), with the show's Co-director Vatican Lokey in the background extreme left. Photo: Steven Seipel
Junior stars (left to right): Victoria Pike (Zuzu Bailey), Evan Autin (Petey Bailey), Aery Dixon (Janey Bailey), Photo: Steven Seipel