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Merry Christmas, George Bailey

Directed by Matthew Diamond & Rae Kraus

Sound Effects by Ray Ehrlinnger

Orchestra Conducted by George Kaufmann

From the 1947 Lux Radio Theatre play "It's A Wonderful Life."  Based on the story "The Greatest Gift" by Phillip Van Doren Stern

Live stage production from the Pasadena Playhouse, the State Theatre of California, December 1997 as a fundraiser for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation

Starring: Casey Kasem, Penelope Ann Miller, Nathan Lane, Martin Landau, Sally Field, Joe Mantegna, Christian Slater, Ryan Slater, Jerry Van Dyke, Robert Guillaume, Carol Kane, Bronson Pinchet, Dan Lauria, Craig Sheffer, Mae Whitman, Tina Marjorina, and of course.....

PBS has never released "Merry Christmas, George Bailey" on video or DVD.  This marvelous PBS show of a live stage reading of the original radio production of the beloved story "It's A Wonderful Life" was perfect for Christmas.   No glitzy sets, costumes, or props--just the stage, some mics, the sound effects guys and their assortment of toys, and a stage full of the brightest stars in Hollywood.  What a night!

Our man Bill plays the James Stewart part of George Bailey and is absolutely perfect.  Everyone knows the story:  George is the hard working owner of a small savings bank that helps the citizens of Bedford Falls build their houses and their families.  Under pressure from the sleazy big banker, Mr. Potter, George & Uncle Billy try to keep things afloat.  But when Uncle Billy (who could be more perfect than Jerry Van Dyke in this role?) misplaces $8,000 just as the bank examiner comes to audit the books, George, who is already feeling the heat from too many responsibilities, blows his cool and wishes he had never existed.  Guided by Clarence the Angel, George is shown how life would be without him.  And it isn't a good life for those who have been a part of George's mundane existence.  "Strange, isn't it?  Each man's life touches so many other lives," Clarence observes.  George is given the precious gift of perspective and realizes that he has made a profound difference for so many beloved people.

There are so many wonderful moments in this show: George & Mary walk home and pass by the old house on Sycamore Street where he throws a rock through a window.  The sound guy really makes it sound huge, so Bill exclaims, " Whoa!  How about that?  It was, like, a Howitzer!"   Bill tries to pull Penelope Ann back on pitch while they sing "Buffalo Gals" (wow, she cannot sing!)  He also plants a kiss on Penelope Ann when George proposes to Mary.   Nathan Lane is a stitch as the hang-dog angel Clarence, trying to earn his wings after 200 years in heaven.

By far the most endearing moment is in the final scene, Bill picks up Mae Whitman (his daughter in "ID4" and now, Zu-Zu Bailey) so that she can pull her silver Christmas bell from his shirt pocket.  But in trying to hang onto Mae and turn the page of the script, Bill drops the script, exclaiming "Ooh."  So Penelope Ann says, "Here, look at mine," to which Bill says, "OH, much better" and to the delight of the audience who gives him a round of applause.  The production ends with the cast singing "Auld Lang Syne" and a standing ovation from a very appreciative audience.

Enjoy the photographs below! 

comments by dlrs

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added 10.17.01