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For this holiday season, the Permian Playhouse will be presenting a well-known Christmas classic but in a different setting.

Next month, “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” will grace the stage at Permian Playhouse.

The play is based on the famous holiday movie that starred Jimmy Stewart but with a different twist.

The setting of the play is that five actors and a foley artist will come in for their Christmas Eve Shift in a radio station in 1946 and do a live reading of “It’s a Wonderful Life” which talks about the life of George Bailey who is a generous man who has become too downcast and struggles to keep living before an angel shows him what life would be like if he wasn’t born.

Cast members for the show “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Show” participate in activities before practice Thursday, Nov. 19, 2021, at Permian Playhouse. (Michael Bauer|Odessa American)

Five actors, all with scripts in their hands, will play the role of dozens of characters.

The play will be under the direction of Sara Lillestol.

“It’s a Wonderful Life, the movie came out in 1946 and it was not a hit when it came out,” Lillestol said. “It was terrible and it wasn’t until it got into syndication in the 70s that it became a big hit and a staple of the holiday season. This show was written around that. The same exact story is happening but it is set in a radio station, Christmas Eve, 1946.”

While the five people play different roles, the foley artist will make the sound effects happen to help bring it to life.

“It is a ton of fun,” Lillestol said. “It is very different but people will know the same story and the same lines like when George tells Mary he’s going to lasso the moon down for her. All those moments and the nostalgic pieces are there. It’s just a different setting.”

Lillestol says she has been eager to direct this version of the play for about 15 years now.

“I fell in love with it and have wanted to do it.” Lillestol said. “I’ve seen different versions of the show.

Cast members from the show “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Show,” from left to right, Hiram Flores, Parker Leroy and Marv Lemaster, read their scripts during a rehearsal Thursday, Nov. 19, 2021, at Permian Playhouse. (Michael Bauer|Odessa American)

Originally, the Permian Playhouse was aiming to put on this play last year but COVID had different plans as last year’s show was canceled.

“We’ve been sitting on our hands for the last year, waiting to bring it back and luckily we were able to,” Lillestol said. “I’ve been waiting to do this for years and years.”

For Lillestol, this will be her second show to direct at Permian Playhouse.

She directed and choreographed Smokey Joe’s Café back in 2019 and has taken part in other shows at Permian Playhouse.

This will be the first time that Permian Playhouse has put on this specific version of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

“I believe this is the first time in this area that this version of the show has been done,” Lillestol said. “So, it’s bringing something new to the basin.”

Auditions for the play were held back in October and so far, the cast members have been working for over three weeks now.

“Because there are six people in the show and because the set does not change and their costumes do not change, we do not change the scenes,” Lillestol said. “We’re in a stagnant set. Everyone stays in their costumes. They are playing the characters at the radio station who are playing all these other characters. There are not very many technical elements. We’re doing it in a true 1940s radio fashion. They are holding the scripts in their hands. It’s very simple blocking-just walking up the microphones. That’s pretty much it. We’re running on less than 12 rehearsals to opening which is unheard of in theatre but this is a very unique show so we’re able to do it.”

The play is scheduled to open at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 3 and run every Friday, Saturday and Sunday until Dec. 12.

Cast member Parker Leroy from the show “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Show” reads his script during a rehearsal Thursday, Nov. 19, 2021, at Permian Playhouse. (Michael Bauer|Odessa American)

Playing the role of Jake Laurents (who voices George Bailey in the play) is Midland Christian and recent Abilene Christian University graduate Parker Leroy.

“It’s been so much fun,” Leroy said of working in this production. “It’s so different than any other show that I’ve done. I went to college for musical theater, I have a degree and that’s what I’m doing with my life. This is so different than anything I’ve done. Sara’s been an amazing director because none of us have done a radio show before and so she’s helping guide us through that. The six of us have all gotten along so well. When you have five people playing thirty different characters, you’re bound to have little slipups in lines and it’s just a ton of fun.”

For Leroy, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a family favorite, so it was almost a no-brainer when he decided to audition.

However, with voicing George, he says it can be stressful.

“I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve watched it,” Leroy said. “It’s a lot of pressure because it’s my dad’s favorite Christmas movie but also because (George) is a great character. It’s showing what the world would be like without you. It’s a ton of fun to dive into that and doing it vocally instead of having to do all the physicality with it. I get to have so much fun with the mental stage of it. … It’s a lot of drawing on what I know from the movie.”

Cast members Blake Rogers, left and Kristi Phillips, right, from the show “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Show,” read their scripts during a rehearsal Thursday, Nov. 19, 2021, at Permian Playhouse. (Michael Bauer|Odessa American)

Voicing the role of George Bailey’s wife Mary is Blake Rogers.

“I think Mary is what you would expect from the typical wife,” Rogers said. “She wants her kids to be happy and her husband to be happy and to live a normal, wonderful life, like what you would expect from anyone. But what I think is so interesting about this show is that I get to play her as a young kid all the way to her adult years. It’s a fun experience for me getting to play a range of ages. … I think it’s really fun and fascinating to watch on stage.”

Rogers, who is a graduate of Permian High and went to Odessa College, has been involved with Permian Playhouse since 2014.

“It feels really great, considering that we’re coming back from COVID and haven’t been on stage for quite some time and doing a different type of show in regards to how the show is performed,” Rogers said. “But because of the movie, I think this show will bring in a lot of people because of the familiarity. Them seeing it in a different type of setting I think will re-light the fire for the community to help support the arts and come out.”

Play director Sara Lillestol talks with cast members for the show “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Show” Thursday, Nov. 19, 2021, at Permian Playhouse. (Michael Bauer|Odessa American)

So far, Lillestol has been pleased with how the show is coming together.

“It has been fantastic,” Lillestol said. “Because we have such a small cast and we didn’t need many rehearsals, I was able to formulate it around so that we’ve had every cast member at every rehearsal which is rare because you know how busy people get. We’ve been powering through it and our cast members have amazing chemistry. We spend half of every rehearsal laughing so I’m excited to see what happens when they get in costumes and under the lights.”

Tickets for the show can be purchased online at tinyurl.com/3mmnefy

If you go

  • What: It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Show.
  • When: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 3, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 4, 2:30 p.m. Dec. 5, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 10, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 11, 2:30 p.m. Dec. 12.
  • Where: Permian Playhouse, 310 W. 42nd Street.
  • Where to buy tickets: tinyurl.com/3mmnefym