You know you’re close to the holidays once the networks trot out Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life—that cinematic testament to community and how each life makes a difference in the lives of others.

But the story gets a new take this holiday season at A.D. Players, which mounts Joe Landry’s It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. The play takes the shape of a 1940s radio drama, with a small cast telling the story of George Bailey, who’s considering ending his life one Christmas Eve. That is, until his plans are interrupted by Clarence Oddbody, an angel sent to convince George to change his mind. 

Like radio dramas of the 1930s and 1940s, the play will feature a series of “commercials” and interludes.

“I love the format of this show,” says actor Joel Sandel, who plays George. “Doing it as a radio play—where we are basically actors playing actors playing people—is such a great way to escape a direct comparison to the movie. But at the same time, it keeps the familiar elements that people know and love.”

Capra's original movie was based on a 1945 Philip Van Doren Stern short story called "The Greatest Gift." The film adaptation premiered in December 1946, when the country was still coming out of the shadow and sacrifice of World War II.

“When it was released, it almost seemed like socialist propaganda,” explains Sandel. “But it’s a story about people working together for a common goal, and I think that’s what America should be. We are all in this together, and we have to rely on each other.”

Sandel says he was taken with the play from its first reading. A self-proclaimed “sap,” he felt Landry’s adaption takes a fresh look at the story, even as it remains true to the source material's themes.

“I had tears in my eyes on like, page five, and I was thinking, ‘I’m not even at the crying part yet!’ But you know, it’s such a warm story, with a lot of joy to it, even when it’s somber. It’s approachable, and it’s family-friendly. I think we need this story as much today as when it was written. I think people are really going to be open to the message of the play.”

Nov. 30–Dec. 23. Tickets from $15. A.D. Players, 5420 Westheimer Rd. 713-526-2721. More info and tickets at adplayers.org.

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