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Stage West Christmas Double Feature, Dec 1-3

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Imagine stepping through the doors of a neighborhood theater and taking a nostalgic Yuletide trip to yesteryear when you enjoy two holiday classics via a sterling double bill.

O. Henry’s short story “The Gift of the Magi” and Joe Landry’s radio adaptation of “It’s a Wonderful Life” will be a double feature on the forum stage and will be presented on Dec. 1 at 7:30 p.m., Dec. 2 at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and Dec. 3 at 2:00 p.m. at Stage West Playhouse, 8390 Forest Oaks Blvd, Spring Hill.

The short story “It’s a Wonderful Life” by Philip Van Doren Stern, which appeared in Good Housekeeping magazine, served as the inspiration for the Frank Capra-helmed feature film version of the timeless Christmas classic. “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which received five Oscar nominations and holds a prestigious spot in the National Film Registry, is the 11th most watched movie, according to the American Film Institute. It tells the story of George Bailey, a family man facing a crucial turning point in his life who receives aid from an angel looking to earn his wings.

Additionally, Linda Willding transforms “It’s a Wonderful Life” into a dynamic full-cast radio play at Stage West Playhouse.

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“What we will present is a radio play much like that presented in the 1940s, where there was no TV and families snuggled up together to enjoy great productions,” said Beth Phillips, who plays multiple roles in the production. “In this radio show, we dress like actors from that time, in a nostalgic setting that comes complete with an on-air sign, a radio station call letter sign, and sound effects.”

What you also see in Phillips’ eyes is a magical transformation. “You see the performers become the characters of this classic play,” she said.

Theresa Stenger, who also plays multiple roles, agrees. “Anyone who remembers the live radio plays performed by Arthur Godfrey in the 1940s will find much to like about this production,” she said. “And it was so much fun to put together.”

Robert Grogan, who plays the role of Clarence the Angel, says that a radio play offers a dual challenge for the cast and crew involved.

“The source material is classic, and in the case of a radio play, you’re basically actors playing actors. In the process, the cast becomes a family, performing in a story that has become imprinted on the DNA of many people,” he said.

O. Henry’s classic short story, first published in 1905, served as the inspiration for “The Gift of the Magi.” The story of a financially challenged couple who makes great sacrifices in order to afford Christmas gifts for one another has been adapted at least five times for the big and small screens in exquisitely filmed productions. At Stage West Playhouse, director Linda Hoagland has adapted the signature short story as a full-cast theatrical play.

“I read and studied the O. Henry short story to prepare for my role as the narrator of ‘The Gift of the Magi,’” said Grogan. “The narrator ties the story together.”

And this story, says Grogan, offers a fresh twist on a classic tale. “Linda Hoagland expanded on the short story,” he said.

“Linda’s imagination turned the story into a play,” agreed Theresa Stenger, who plays a caroler in “The Gift of the Magi.” “The historical costumes, the sets, the way we block the scene, all presented challenges. But we had so much fun. It all came together.”

Phillips, who also plays a caroler in The Gift of the Magi, indeed feels that this double bill, including an intermission, will be a fun watch for audiences. “This experience was a joy,” she said.

Tickets for this gala holiday performance are $20 each; visit https://stagewestflorida.com/buy-tickets/ or call (352) 683-5113 for more information.

Jay Ingle in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Tanecia Scott and Mia Knapp in
“The Gift of the Magi.”

Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey is a features journalist and author who is the winner of Florida Press Association honors and a certificate of appreciation from LINCS (Family Support Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention Task Force) and Sunrise Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center for her newspaper coverage of these issues. She graduated cum laude from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., with a journalism major and English/sociology minor, and previously wrote for publications that include the Pasco editions of The Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Times. A native of Indiana, she lives in Florida.
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