Tin Shop Theatre to present ‘It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play’ Dec. 10-19

Published 8:00 am Friday, December 3, 2021

BUCHANAN — Many know the plot of “It’s a Wonderful Life” by heart.

On a snowy Christmas Eve in New York, idealistic George Bailey considers ending his life but is given a new perspective after an angel shows him a vision of what the world would look like had he never been born.

For most, the story is a heartwarming tale, as synonymous with Christmas as hot cocoa, but for David Ferrell, the director of the Buchanan’s Tin Shop Theatre’s next performance, the story took on extra significance after he lost a loved one to suicide in the last year.

“The wonderful part about this show is that this time of year, everyone thinks about Christmas and the giving and receiving of gifts because the Christmas holiday season of today has become so commercialized,” Ferrell said. “But this show is about really taking a step back and realizing how valuable each person’s life is — that we are a gift to ourselves, the community and each other.”

Ferrell is directing “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” at the Tin Shop Theatre, 108 E. Roe St., Buchanan. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Dec. 10, 11, 17 and 18 and 3:30 p.m. Dec. 12 and 19. Tickets range from $5 to $12. During each show, the cast will be collecting donations for the Berrien County Suicide Prevention Collation, which has a mission to connect the people of Berrien County to the information and resources they need for emotional wellness, thereby preventing suicide.

“This show, for me personally, has been very challenging, but also very fulfilling,” Ferrell said. “By partnering with the collation, we are not just bringing a holiday classic to life, we are making sure we are keeping our community alive and aware that mental health is another aspect of this time of year, and it’s very important that we help each other out and maintain a community that cares about each other.”

In addition to raising money for a good cause, Ferrell said the show is sure to provide a night of uplifting entertainment that will give something new to even the most devout “It’s a Wonderful Life” fans.

The Tin Shop’s play-within-a-play is set inside a 1940s radio station, where radio stars are putting on a rendition of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” complete with era-appropriate commercials. Each member of the ensemble cast plays multiple roles.

“It really adds this timeless quality to the story on top of the already wonderful — pun intended — Christmas experience you get with the movie,” Ferrell said.

Playing multiple roles proved a challenge for the cast — but one they had fun overcoming.

“I didn’t know it was a show-within-a-show when I tried out, but once I found out, I got even more excited because you get to do all these different impressions,” said Matthew Vargo, who plays the role of radio star Phillip Arnold.

“It is fun and challenging to give a voice to a character to represent who they are and what their personality is,” added cast member Debi Robertson, who voices both the main character’s mother and daughter. “For example, George Bailey’s mother needs to sound like a mature motherly figure. … On the other side of things, George’s youngest, Zuzu, is pure joy and fun. She’s a little girl who loves her daddy and speaks with a slight speech impediment.”

With opening night coming up fast, cast members said they are excited to share the show they have been working on with the community.

“I think the message is so heartwarming and resonates so much,” said Jeff Starkey, who plays voice actor Ray Gordon. “It’s been great getting involved, and it’s been a wonderful time.”

“It’s going to be a really unique show,” Vargo added. “I think so many people are familiar with the story, you know it plays every year on public television, but the play really takes you back in time and lets you experience it in a new way.”

Ferrell said audiences are bound to have as much fun as the actors did, and he would encourage the community to attend the show and embrace its message of every life mattering and every person making a difference.

“Whether you know the story or are a specific fan of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ it has a good message for this time of year — especially after everything we have all gone through this year,” he said. “We can be a light of hope for each other. …  Without each other, we can’t survive, and that is kind of the lesson George Baily learns in the show — that every life is valuable. I think that is the most perfect message.”

To purchase tickets online, visit tinshoptheatre.org.

To donate to the Berrien County Suicide Prevention Collation online, visit berriencares.org/donate.