Radio Days Return

Above: “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.” At least, that’s how it works in charmingly fictional Bedford Falls. Kim Haymes is the wing-dinger for Iowa Stage Theatre Company’s radio-style production of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Photo: Joe Crimmings.

By Michael Morain

Note to wingless angels: Buddy up to Kim Haymes. She’s in charge of the bell.

It’s one of 30-some gadgets and doodads she’ll use for sound effects when Iowa Stage Theatre opens an old-fashioned radio version of “It’s a Wonderful Life” this Friday, Nov. 16, at the Des Moines Social Club. She’ll slam a car door (an old movie-reel canister), toss people into a river (a fake peach into a bucket of water) and walk across freshly fallen snow (shoes on a tray of Frosted Flakes).

While a few real snowflakes fell before a recent rehearsal in the company’s space downtown on 11th Street, the show’s cast and crew swept in the front door carrying scattered elements of imaginary weather. Someone brought a pair of metal sheets to simulate thunder. Someone else spun a hand-cranked wind machine—a bolt of canvas wrapped around a wooden cylinder—although props master Rebel Clodi decided Haymes sounded more windy simply by whistle-blowing into a glass.

Director John Graham has always wanted to do a radio play, where the actors stand in place on a spare stage. He’s especially eager to direct this one, because he remembers watching the classic 1946 movie when he was growing up.

The story about an angel who persuades George Bailey not to kill himself on Christmas Eve resonates with folks because “a lot of us don’t really understand the positive impact we have on those around us,” Graham says. “We usually don’t tell people how much they mean to us. That only happens when somebody dies, at the funeral, but George gets a second chance.”

When the good people of Bedford Falls raise a toast to George at the end of the night, Haymes gets to pop a cork. She lobbied for Champagne but may have to settle for seltzer water or “a big bottle of cheap Sprite,” stage manager Lauren Dursky says.

With a little radio magic, nobody will ever know.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” runs Nov. 16 through Nov. 25 at the Des Moines Social Club, followed by the company’s annual staging of “A Christmas Carol,” Dec. 14-23. $35-$40 for adults, $30-$35 for seniors, and $20 for students.

In other old-time radio news … The Des Moines Symphony plans to re-create the famous 1943 live radio broadcast that made a 25-year-old Leonard Bernstein an overnight star. He stepped in as a last-minute replacement to conduct the New York Philharmonic through an ambitious program of Schuman, Rosza, Strauss and Wagner at Carnegie Hall and, by all accounts, dazzled everybody who heard it. Bernstein continues to dazzle Des Moines’ own maestro Joseph Giunta. Read his account in this story from dsm magazine.

The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and repeats at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Des Moines Civic Center. $15-$68, with student discounts.
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