STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For Digital First Media
You could sit on the couch and watch “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the movie. But why not see it live and in a new way? The Bucks County Playhouse (BCP) celebrates the holiday season with “It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play,” Dec. 11 through 27. This is the second time the play has graced BCP’s stage – it also celebrated the season there in 2012. This year, the show is directed by Broadway performer, writer and director Hunter Foster.
The show is based on the classic film starring Jimmy Stewart, but this version is performed as a 1940s live radio broadcast in front of a “studio audience.” It even includes a foley artist – the guy who makes the sound effects so the people listening through the radio get the full experience.
The story begins on Christmas Eve 1946, and performers at a radio station are on the air telling the familiar tale of idealistic George Bailey, who considers his demise one fateful Christmas Eve. More than two dozen characters (played by five actors) inhabit his world.
Garth Kravits plays the Foley Artist/Sound Effects Guy. He previously played the same role in another BCP holiday show, “Meet Me in St. Louis: A Live Radio Play.” It’s a challenge.
“It moves so quickly,” he said in a telephone interview. “The sound cues move so fast and furious. But once you get the choreography down, it’s good.”
The first time he performed that type of role was daunting, but “once you get it into your bones, it’s a lot of fun,” he said. “It gave me great respect for people who do that.”
And so he’s looking forward to “It’s A Wonderful Life” for that, and also because it’s a joy to be part of the story’s history.
“It’s one of the most iconic and classic holiday stories around and I’ve watched it dozens of times,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how many times – you just cry and cry and cry. It’s about family and the spirit of the holidays. It’s great to be a part of that.”
The play is “such a beautiful little piece of theater, too,” he said. “We’re playing for laughs and tears and applause. It adds a very fun layer to the whole piece.”
Kravits is happy to be back at BCP and in New Hope.
“It’s such a treat,” he said. “New Hope is such a picturesque holiday town. It looks almost identical to the one in the movie.”
And it’s a nice break from the hustle and bustle of New York, where Kravits has appeared on Broadway with Sutton Foster in “The Drowsy Chaperone.”
“As much as we all love New York and as electric as the city is, it can be crowded and overwhelming,” he said. “In Bucks County, I can take a nice walk in the morning, have a nice cup of coffee, and do some antiquing.”
He’s most looking forward to performing, though. The classic story is relatable and still resonates today, he said. And the radio play aspect makes it even more fun. Kravits loves the commercial breaks, which resemble those actually done during radio programs in the past.
“They’re so ridiculous,” he said. “We do commercials from the era about smoking and weight loss, and of course the Chiquita banana dance, which is always great.”
And he gets to make all the noise in the world, too – and they pay him for that.
“I get to bang on pots and pans and make sounds of broken glass,” he said. “All the stuff you were told not to do, I get to do. See, mom, I told you.”