November 21, 2018

Theresa Java/Free Press
Children rehearse Christmas carols and their supporting roles. They'll sing before curtain call and during intermission for 'It's a Wonderful Life, a Live Radio Play,' opening Friday, Nov. 30.

Theresa Java/Free Press Children rehearse Christmas carols and their supporting roles. They'll sing before curtain call and during intermission for 'It's a Wonderful Life, a Live Radio Play,' opening Friday, Nov. 30.

KEY LARGO — “It’s A Wonderful Life, A Live Radio Play,” written by Joe Landry and to be performed by the Key Players, is a play-within-a-play based on the classic movie that debuted 72 years ago about American dreamer George Bailey who contemplates ending his life as financial calamity strikes just before the holidays.

The cast of 24 actors and stage hands, including nine children under the age of 13, along with producers Patrice and Paul Messina, and director Jonelle Kop, now revved in high gear, have been preparing for the production since September.

“No one should be holding a red script,” Kop said in reference to the cast’s lines during rehearsal last Thursday. “You should all be holding a prop by now. George, do you have a suitcase?”

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is the Key Players’ 121st production. The acting troupe doesn’t normally cast many children in their productions, but when the kids showed up to audition, Kop took on the challenge.

“I had to figure out a way to get them engaged,” she said.

In addition to acting, the all-youth ensemble will sing Christmas carols before the curtain draw and during intermission.

Kop said the casting call attracted new actors to the Upper Keys-based troupe. Newbie Cristina von Essen, portraying Mary Hatch, convincingly sparks chemistry with Craig Zabransky, playing the lead role of George Bailey.

Her performance is purposefully coltish during the disrobing scene.

All the sound effects are live, which is part of the fun, according to technician Bob Auer. He credits Susan Bazin and Brad Shank with having a major off-stage role in creating the sound effects. Kathy Miller also helps with the sound effects in addition to her onstage roles

“This is walking through snow,” Miller said as she crushed pretzels in a bag. A shaken aluminum sheet is a roll of thunder.

“I play Giuseppe Martini because I can do an Italian accent,” she added.

Another new actress is Cathy Austin, who is cast as Violet Bick. “I’m the floozy with a heart,” she said.

Russ Holmes plays Clarence, Angel Second Class. Jerry Nussenblatt is the formidable Mr. Potter, and Tommy Chambers performs a series of roles as Uncle Billy Bailey, Ernie the taxi driver, Nick the bartender and more.

His favorite role is Billy Bailey, George’s uncle and the root cause of his woes.

“He’s the cause of all George’s troubles. He lost the $8,000,” Chambers said. He watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” when he was just a boy “at least 20 times.”

“This is a great play. It just has a great message: no matter how bad things are, be thankful for being here,” he said.

The troupe, committed to their craft, continued rehearsing last Thursday even during a power outage.

“The show must go on,” Kop said in the dark.

The Key Players first performance of “It’s a Wonderful Life, A Live Radio Play” is set for 7:30 p.m., Friday, Nov. 30. Additional showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1; 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2; and 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6, through Saturday, Dec. 8. All performances are at the Murray E. Nelson Government and Cultural Center, 102050 Overseas Highway, in Key Largo.

For more information, to order tickets or for ticket locations, visit thekeyplayers.org.

tjava@keysnews.com