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It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play E-mail

After a groundbreaking season featuring drugs, a murder trial and male strippers, Phoenix Ensemble heads into more wholesome territory with an innovative adaptation of Frank Capra's much loved Christmas story, It's A Wonderful Life, as its final show of the year.

It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play is performed as a 1940s live radio broadcast in front of a studio audience. Ten actors perform the dozens of characters in the radio play as well as produce the sound effects.

The Phoenix production, directed by Steve Pearton, will play at the boutique Pavilion Theatre in Beenleigh over two weekends from December 6, including Sunday matinees.

Steve (last seen on the Phoenix stage in 12 Angry Men) says the original Capra film has always been a personal favourite, and as soon as he read the radio show adaptation, he knew he wanted to tell the story.

"It was also an appropriate time in my life to create something uplifting and inspiring. I see theatre as a way of giving back to the community, and doing a story like this is a perfect chance to give audience members a warm-fuzzy feeling leading into the hectic Christmas period."

wonderful life emmawill webThe director says the story remains a favourite among audiences because of its universal themes that reflect earlier material including, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol and Dante's Divine Comedy.

"It's about an everyman character in crisis. He must endure a period of trial and suffering before finding happiness. He can only find salvation by accepting the joys as well as the sorrows in his life.

"Frank Capra (the director of the original 1946 film) was himself a Christian, and many religious themes run through his stories, most notably this one. It's ultimately a very uplifting and humanitarian story, and hopefully it's a journey that everybody can relate to."

Presenting a radio play on stage brought a number of challenges for Steve and his cast, not the least being the fact the actors spend most of their time working only with their voice and a microphone. Which is what makes the presence of the "studio" audience so important.

"We've incorporated a degree of interaction between the actors while they are on mic to heighten the emotion elements of the story and as visual guides for the 'studio' audience. There is also a certain amount of insider jokes written into the script purely for the benefit of the live audience, all of which helps us to tell the story.

"We are relying heavily on three main things: the quality of the vocal performances; the pre-recorded sound effects and music; and the creation of live sound effects. Alone, any one of those things is pretty lifeless. Mixed together, it's possible to create a wonderful (pun intended) atmosphere that brings the story to life. In a sense, we are bringing a kind of magic back to theatre.'

Steve describes it as a very old-fashioned way of telling a story. "It involves the audience in the telling because they have to use their imagination. As an added bonus, they get a peek into the behind-the-scenes world of how radio works."

The concept of radio plays as theatre is one growing in popularity at the moment and Steve is confident this production will be one of the best presented to date in Brisbane.

"Audiences can expect a fresh retelling of a classic story. There may also be a few surprises in store, so keep your eyes and ears open!"

Venue: Pavilion Theatre, Beenleigh Showgrounds, James Street, Beenleigh

7.30pm: 6, 7, 13, 14 December

3pm: 8, 15 December

Tickets: $24 adult; $22 concession, $20 child (under 15)


Will Boyd
Jermima Turner
Emma Seach
Marie Ortquist
Robert Gettons
Jacob Paint
Sue Matley
Isaac Tibbs
Cherie Fonua
Daniel Smith

Will Phoenix Ensemble go The Full Monty?
Written by Paula Weston   

Phoenix Ensemble is set to present the smash hit musical The Full Monty in November, and audiences will need to come along to see if the cast really does go “all the way”.

The musical is an Americanised version of the 1997 British film, in which six unemployed Buffalo steelworkers decide to put on a strip act at a local club after seeing their wives' enthusiasm for touring Chippendales. Their point of difference? They'll go "the full monty" — strip all the way. 

Director Tracey Hutley said she was drawn to the show because, while the show was fun and light-hearted, it was also about real people dealing with real issues. 

“The big reveal at the end of the show, although important, is only a fleeting moment. The true story is about the lives and the journey these men take while facing some of the darkest moments of their lives, including unemployment, death, and issues around sexuality. We’ve been working hard in rehearsals to ensure the audience can connect with these characters and fall in love with them – quirks and all.

“Every member of the audience will be able to relate to one of the characters, as most people will have experienced similar journeys in their lives. We’ve worked really hard to show that the themes of the show are as real today as they were when the production was first developed.” 

The show’s original music was another big plus for the director. “The music is really catchy with an upbeat brass band sound and some of the most beautiful ballads of any show I have ever directed.”

As they prepare for the strip show, the men work through their fears, self-consciousness, and anxieties, and find strength in camaraderie. Tracey said a similar bonding experience happened for the cast through the rehearsal period.

“The guys have formed a certain bond that only fellas can when they are running around a stage half naked. We have a great bunch of people who are here to put on a terrific performance – and that’s what the audience will get.”

Full Monty features choreography by Heather Scott and musical direction by Casey Chadwick and Nick Ng. It promises to be a highlight in Phoenix Ensemble’s two-decade history.

“Phoenix is known for delivering cutting edge theatre and not necessarily producing the same sorts of shows as every other company,” Tracey says. “The Full Monty is testament to this. It takes real courage and trust from the cast to present this shows vulnerability and depth of character.”

And do the cast go the full monty? Come along and see.

7.30pm:         1,2, 8, 9, 15, 16, 22, 23, 29, 30 November

Tickets:          $26 adult; $24 concession



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