Most everyone knows this beloved American holiday story with the beloved actor Jimmy Stewart in the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Now, Flowertown Players will stage the 1940s radio play written in 2006 by Joe Landry and directed locally by Larry Spinner. I sat down with Larry and two of the lead actors: Zach Rettig plays the role of the idealistic George Bailey which Stewart played, and Jamie Young will be the radio station announcer as well as Joseph, the superintendent of the angels. Joseph sends Clarence to save George from ending his life on one fateful Christmas Eve. The character of Mary Bailey (George’s wife) is played by Indea Bennett. The show opens this Fri., Nov. 26 and runs through to Sat., Dec. 11.
Regan: Larry, you had quite an audition process for this play in terms of some people playing more than one role?
Spinner: In a straight-on play, you look to see if an actor can play one character. Yet in this play, I had to envision each actor being able to play multiple characters. It’s more stressful, as I have to make sure each character is different enough for me to notice and then (coming) up with all of the sound effects for this radio play was a challenge. My actors have very much impressed me!
Regan: Zach, what was it like for you to play this iconic role?
Rettig: To be frank, if I were going to get a role, I thought it would have been Clarence, the apprentice Angel Second Class who is trying to earn his wings as George’s guardian angel. It has been a very unique challenge, as there would be an impulse of wanting to see the original movie so I would have a baseline. However, if I saw the movie, would I then be just trying to be Jimmy Stewart instead of me. This is my first leading role, so I am a bit nervous, but I’m also excited.
Regan: Jamie, what was it like for you to play two key roles (although you also do the voice of Bert the cop; the second cop; George’s dad/Pete Bailey, Sr.; and Peter Bailey (George’s child). Whew! Your first play here was in 2013.
Young: I love doing voices and characterizations to make each one unique. I’ve been doing voices for a long time. I have found it fascinating even as a little kid. As a child, my high school music teacher taught me your voice is an instrument. The way you vary your voice can bring different characters to life. Joseph is probably closest to my own voice — guiding Clarence to guide George Bailey.
Regan: Larry, how many plays have you now directed? What other jobs have you done in the theater?
S: I started off with a Master’s in Directing in 1991 from Cal State Los Angeles and my master’s degree paper was an instruction booklet for candidates to obtain their master’s in directing. I’m originally from Fall River, Mass. When I was in fourth grade, we went to Stratford, Conn. and saw "Hamlet" in a replica of the Old Globe Theatre from Stratford, England — the pageantry was magical, and I fell in love with Shakespeare. I did a little bit of acting in high school. The other side of me is that I’ve always been into science as my sister died of leukemia and so I was initially a pharmacist in Rhode Island and then moved to California. I lived near UCLA and took theatrical acting classes there in Hollywood and commercial acting in Burbank. I did “The Sign in Sydney Brustein’s Window” about a man in New York whose life crumbled around him but then he rose up and made a difference.
Regan: Zach, what is your favorite scene in this play and why?
Rettig: There is this scene at the Bailey Building and Loan where Mr. Potter makes a motion to dissolve the business for him to own it instead of George Bailey. George has a wonderful monologue. That is essentially his coming-of-age moment as a responsible adult. He had the guts in that speech to stand up to Potter because George cares about serving the people more than the greedy Potter.
Regan: Jamie, you just played the lead in "Moon Over Buffalo," a comedy. How do you like drama versus comedy?
Y: It’s actually not that much of a switch. The part itself is rather lighthearted. The last role was very physical and had a lot of costume changes. In this play, I don’t have to memorize lines as it’s a radio play and the script is right in front of me.
Regan: What are all your plans after this play finishes?
S: I am working backstage for "Steel Magnolias" handling the props and scene and costume changes.
Rettig: I will probably take another break for awhile to recharge and see what’s next.
Y: I will be doing the Veteran’s Benefit program, “From the Front Lines to the Home Front,” which we will have here on Memorial Day weekend.
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Mary E. Regan, columnist, is a freelance publicist with her ProPublicist.com consultancy.
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