Birth of a New Holiday Tradition: NCP’s Latest Live Radio Play

There’s the saying, “Everything old is new again.” To which I’d add, “only if it speaks to a new generation.” Radio programs spoke to generations of listeners in the twentieth century, to be surpassed by film and TV, only to be resurrected in exploding popularity under the guise of “podcasts.” As humans, we’ve always felt the need to see stories, read stories, hear stories … often all together. And our best stories, those that speak most deeply to our shared humanity, challenges and aspirations, tend to survive through the ages. Like the timeless works of William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens.

Come Christmas, Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is freshly discovered by the young and  rediscovered, depending on one’s stage in life, by their elders – as a reminder of what truly matters, of our need to care for one another and perhaps, most of all, of the possibility for redemption and hope. New City Players (NCP) – our primo community-oriented and socially active local theater company – has once again gifted us with a strikingly fresh version of this Christmas classic in the classic form of a “live” radio play. 

 Some of you might recall their earlier, immensely popular, “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play.” So I need only say: This year they are staging A CHRISTMAS CAROL: A LIVE RADIO PLAY, and you’ll come running. Not to mention that they are bringing back NCP founder/producing artistic director Timothy Mark Davis as director and four of last year’s notable cast: Marlo Rodriguez, Carlos Ayaleto, Noah Levine, and Caroline Dopson. Joined by talented newcomers, Laura Argo and Gustavo Garcia.

The multi-talented cast of New City Players’ exquisite, original holiday showing of A
CHRISTMAS CAROL: A LIVE RADIO PLAY, reimagined by Tyler Johnson Grimes.
From left: Gustavo Garcia, Noah Levine, Laura Argo, Carlos Alayeto, Caroline
Tarantolo, and Marlo Rodriguez. Photo by Ryan Arnst.

But perhaps coolest of all is that this time you get to see a world premiere reimagining of Dickens’ classic novella in live radio-play format created by their very own company member, Tyler Johnson Grimes. Last year, Grimes was nominated for a Carbonell for his use of Foley sound effects in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” (“Foley” refers to an early radio-play tradition named for sound effects artist Jack Foley who pioneered the use of everyday objects to recreate sounds like footsteps and closing doors during live radio broadcasts and is still employed, post-production, in films.) 

This year, in addition to designing quaint Foley sound effects, whilst wearing his “playwright hat,” Grimes also wrote the script which features a contemporary-style dual plotline. (Much like today’s historical fiction that alternates chapters between past and present, with current issues and characters mirroring those that came before.) 

Set again at WNCP radio station, Fort Lauderdale, our story opens on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1971. The small, independent station that has been broadcasting live for generations announces its final farewell performance will be their traditional annual radio play, “A Christmas Carol,” complete with decades’-old Foley props. For station owner Alastair Filmore – who inherited the family business from his father, Freddie Filmore (whose portrait and memorial plaque still occupies a place of honor on the wall) – has decided, after several difficult years, to cut his losses and sell the building to newcomer cable station, WFLA-TV. 

As the station’s final broadcast’s audience, we not only get to watch all the drama that ensues between the owner and his loyal employees who won’t give up without a fight – including a loving and indefatigable sister and much-loved ex-girlfriend, who did give up on their romantic future – but are made to feel like we actually ARE the station’s “audience” during the night’s performance. 

Island City Stage, where the play takes place, has its air conditioning set to low cool, and we’re welcomed with hot chocolate that we can take to our seats and place in convenient cup holders. There’s soft, classic Christmas music playing as we wait for the show to begin, but soon notice that it’s being broadcast from “WNCP Playhouse of the Air.” The fictitious station’s call letters are prominently displayed against the dark brick and wood-paneled stage/sound studio, and set between two old-fashioned “Applause” and “On Air” signs (the former also lights up when we’re supposed to applaud). And when the preshow “station” music is interrupted, it’s for a local forecast of, “Snowflakes are NOT falling in South Florida,” before the radio announcer reminds us to silence our phones. 

No matter how often I encounter “A Christmas Carol,” I’m moved and fully engaged.  The story’s dramatic highlights, as presented here, yield their full impact – maybe even more so, due to a contemporary (for 1971) dramatic twist enacted by the station members and one contest-winning, used-car salesman who’s joined them for the evening’s play reading. And unlike my typical annoyance at commercials that are instantly fast-forwarded or tuned out, this radio play’s two old-timey ad breaks were an absolute delight. A breath of comic relief to the intense visitations of Scrooge-and-company past, present, and future. 

The staff of WNCP radio share a victory toast to a brighter future. From left: Andrea
Guardo-Cuao, Laura Argo, Noah Levine, and Caroline Tarantolo. Photo by Ryan Arnst.

Here, too, we were more than invited to participate – as song sheets were quickly distributed down the aisles. We helped advertise special Christmas cat food, displayed boxed or canned, by singing along to the quirky jingle, “Santa Paws is Coming to Town.” Next commercial break featured Anusol Ointment for Santa’s Wish List because “What does Santa sit on all day?” Relief from endless lap photos with the kiddies was promoted with another group songfest of “Hemorrhoids Stink” to the tune of “Jingle Bells.” The song sheet’s final song returns to the reason for the season with a heartfelt rendition of the original “O Holy Night,” sung by the entire cast at the end of the play, when all is happily resolved and we are sent on our merry way. 

Often out of necessity, smaller companies tend to employ their members in multiple facets of theatrical production. At New City Players, they are given the opportunity to contribute, shine, and grow in many ways. The seven member on-stage cast not only played multiple roles in Christmases past, present, and future, they also served as Foley sound crew when not actively engaged in a speaking part. You see them rushing about to the two wooden side-tables laden with everything from bells, an old manual metronome, ladies high heels, men’s dress shoes, lots of vintage handheld items I can’t name … and for Scrooge’s vision of his deceased partner Marley, clanking chains. 

You might want to walk over for a closer look at this unique, antique assemblage before the show. In addition to noting the playwright’s vision and sound-effect handiwork, this might be a good time to also credit props and set dressing designer Jameelah Bailey and scenic painter Aubrey Kestell, along with lighting designer Annabel Herrera.

Cheery Gustavo Garcia (right) hands Christmas gifts to cranky WNCP radio station
owner Carlos Alayeto. Photo by Ryan Arnst.

The play opens with the radio station’s Stage Manager, convincingly played by the play’s real assistant stage manager, Andrea Guardo-Cuao. She instructs us to obey the Applause light and can’t accept this is their final night, a feeling shared by longtime fellow female employees June Lockhart (Caroline Tarantolo) who is owner Alastair Filmore’s (Carlos Alayeto) feisty former love interest, and Claire Phillips (Marlo Rodriguez), the always hopeful yet physically ailing favorite niece of station manager and “performing legend” Walter R. Booth (Noah Levine) who with 20 years at WNCP is also Alastair’s longest-serving, and oldest (likely only) friend. 

Next up, and making a big entrance (in more ways than just physical), is Pat Williams (Gustavo Garcia), the contest winner who’s won a spot in their live play reading and immediately attempts to promote his used-car business. He’s also yelled at for “accidentally” using the women’s makeup because it was marked “stage makeup.” Though no one can see why he would need any makeup at all for a radio broadcast. 

Horrified Carlos Alayeto, as miser Ebenezer Scrooge, watches Laura Argo depict the
chained, suffering ghost of his greedy deceased business partner, Jacob Marley. Photo by
Ryan Arnst.

Frances Magon (Laura Argo) is Alistair’s unsinkable sister who refuses to give up on the company or her brother and tries, as always, to keep the peace. She comes bearing Christmas gifts and proudly presents Alistair with an antique radio in a decorative wooden cabinet that had belonged to their dad while playing dad’s favorite song in hopes of changing his mind about selling the building. But to no avail. 

Alistair still loves June, but when he appeals to her all these years later (she’d left him when he chose monetary greed above their relationship), she feels it’s too late. And then Dickens’ famous tale begins with all the radio actors appearing in corresponding roles (in voice, though not necessarily in looks). What they do hold in common with the world of 1843 London are incredible British accents. And to help us, the live audience, visualize their characters, wonderful costume design by NCP’s resident costume designer Casey Sacco. The memory of her black-shrouded ghosts of Christmas past still sends chills up my spine. 

Even if you remember all of Dickens’ lines, you’ll enjoy this fresh live reenactment and, personally, I always find something new to marvel at. Applying his lessons to a 1970’s radio crisis is more than clever – it easily resonates with the ever-changing media landscape of our times. And makes one wonder if progress is always for the better while reminding us to care for those left behind. That’s the serious, socially conscious part of New City Players’ latest play. 

But most of all, as Tim Davis points out in his Director’s Note: “The holidays are a sweet reminder and re-centering around so many good things: family, friendship, faith, hope, and love.” While he’s learning about holiday spirit from his 10-year-old, we also get to enjoy Summer Davis’ pitch-perfect portrayal of the Voice of Young Frances against that of Ben Pulsifer playing the Voice of Young Alastair. It’s often the children who can teach us about what matters the most. If we would only listen.

You can’t miss by giving the gift of live theater this holiday season. And what better family-sharing opportunity than a newly reimagined classic that’s both deep and delightful fun! So ditch the shopping and give your spirit a boost with a short outing to central Broward for A CHRISTMAS CAROL: A LIVE RADIO PLAY, reimagined by Tyler Johnson Grimes. Playing through December 23 at Island City Stage, 2304 N. Dixie Hwy, Wilton Manors 33305. For tickets go to Or call 954-376-6114.

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