New City Players’ “It’s a Wonderful Life” Is a Wonderful Production

Quite a few Christmas holiday films have risen to the level of “classic.” Perhaps the most famous is “Miracle on 34th Street.”  Others include “White Christmas,”  “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” “Elf” and, of course, “The Santa Clause.”

But “It’s a Wonderful Life” is still the gold standard of celluloid holiday flicks. Crafted by director Frank Capra in 1946, the film doesn’t just memorialize Christmas, it also underscores the importance of every individual on this earth and how tragic this planet would be if just one of them were to have never existed.

The New City Players have repackaged that tale as a radio play that’s being performed on the Island City Stage in Wilton Manors through Sunday, Dec. 18. The production is truly a Christmas miracle since it supposedly takes place in a Fort Lauderdale broadcast studio in 1949. The set is complete with ancient microphones and old-fashioned foley (sound effects) equipment to create the ambient clamors in the fictional town of Bedford Falls one Christmas Eve when a simple man learned a lesson in the importance of life.

A Christmas tree, strings of colored lights, poinsettias and other holiday paraphernalia add seasonal flair to the stark radio room.

Noah Levine and Caroline Dopson in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ being presented by New City Players. (Courtesy of New City Players)

Plaudits are in order for Producing Artistic Director Timothy Mark Davis and Production Manager Elizabeth Price for locating five local actors with excellent ability to mimic the voices, feelings and emotions of more than 40 characters who appear in the charming story. The cast — Marcos Fuentes, Carlos Alayeto, Marlo Rodriguez, Caroline Dopson and Noah Levine – is a fine ensemble with outstanding ability to morph seamlessly from character to foley artist and back again.

It’s a Wonderful Life, the radio play, is a must-see, particularly as Christmas draws near. Those who attend get a free cup of hot cocoa and can nab some gingerbread cookies to heighten the seasonal feel on the way to their seats. 

And even before the show starts, viewers can watch the actors setting up in a small alcove that faithfully copycats a radio studio from a half-century ago, complete with an old, metal, dial telephone, a variety of sound-producing devices that have long since become extinct, two stand-up microphones up front and other mikes scattered throughout the studio.

Marlo Rodriguez and Caroline Dopson in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ being presented by New City Players. (Courtesy of New City Players)

When the “On the Air” light illuminates, the players who had been biding their time start rushing like church mice for the 90-minute, no intermission, production, speaking their parts and providing appropriate background sounds when needed. The transitional action is virtually seamless, and the show is wonderfully entertaining.

Briefly, It’s a Wonderful Life is the story of George Bailey, a man who contemplates suicide after enduring a crisis on Christmas Eve. He is saved by a guardian angel, Clarence, who wins his wings as a result.

The program shows real actors portraying fictitious actors who portray the people in the story. Alayeto appears as Freddie Filmore, the radio host at WNCP, who sounds just like the guys who used to introduce old radio dramas. His voice, clean and clear, takes on a brusque, raspy tone when he portrays miserly banker Potter, but it softens to a gentle timbre when he plays George’s innocent, but hapless Uncle Billy.

Fuentes, who becomes fictional actor Jake Laurents, mainly portrays George Bailey. He brings a variety of emotions to the important role – from gleeful to frustrated to bitterly depressed, particularly when financial troubles push him to the brink of suicide. George’s clever dialogue with Clarence mixes whimsy with disbelief, and the finale brings out the best in his portrayal.

Marlo Rodrigues, as actress Sally Applewhite, takes on a soft and delicate demeanor in her role as George’s wife, Mary. In fact, her portrayal closely mirrors that of Donna Reed, who portrayed George’s wife in the original film. 

Marlo Rodriguez in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ being presented by New City Players. (Courtesy of New City Players)

As Harry “Jazzbo” Heywood, Noah Levine covers a whole map of  characterizations, devising voices and expressions that match the roles. Perhaps his most significant portrayal is that of Clarence, the angel, whose mindset runs from perplexed to determined.  Levine also plays George’s brother, Harry, the war hero, and he goes full crazy Italiano portraying Mr. Mancini, the bar owner.

Caroline Dopson comes in as featured player Lana Sherwood, who capably moves deftly through a variety of roles – and still manages to reach the foley equipment in time. Her parts include a state banking examiner, an angel superintendent and part time narrator.

But one portrayal will likely stick with you, that of George’s little daughter, Zuzu, whose heart-wrenching expression of sadness over her Christmas flower losing its petals may draw tears. 

Performers add another hint of old-time radio by vocalizing a couple of singing commercials for Bremel hair tonic and Dux toilet soap. They also end the show the way Capra concluded the film, with a rendition of “Auld Lang Syne.”

While the cast earns a hearty round of applause, unseen crew folks who set up the studio also deserve plaudits: scenic and costume designers Casey Sacco and Arlette Del Toro and scenic painter Kathe O’Donnelly. Of course, sound and foley designer Tyler Johnson Grimes goes the extra mile to make sure the sound effects are top notch.

Carlos Alayeto and Caroline Dopson in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ being presented by New City Players. (Courtesy of New City Players)

And how does director Davis sum up his creation? “While the exaltation of the individual is certainly present in this story, it’s not actually the element that puts a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye. It’s George Bailey’s community rallying around him in his time of need. It’s the plight of an individual being alleviated by his community. It’s the paradoxical beauty of the one in and among the many.”

New City Players will continue performing It’s a Wonderful Life, the radio version, through Dec. 18 at the Island City Stage, 2403 N. Dixie Highway, Wilton Manors. For tickets, visit

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