Many people know the big holiday line as if it were straight from a classic carol: Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.

Terry Clark knows better. In his world every time a bell rings, or a door slams or even a phone rings, for goodness sakes, he’s done his job in the fast-paced “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” opening Friday at the Harlequin Theatre inside FairOaks Mall in Columbus.

“I get a little frantic because the sounds have to be on time,” said Clark, the sultan of sound effects in the show, and one who is visible to the audience as a source of comic relief. “But sometimes, I miss my cue.”

Never fear, says director Robert Hay-Smith, presenting for the third time the often-comic spin-off of the well-known 1946 Frank Capra movie. What’s missed takes a bit of the spotlight — and has triggered good-natured laughter in the past among audiences unsure of what’s purposeful and what’s accidental, Hay-Smith said.

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Plus, the audience is hardly in a normal setting with this production.

“It’s such a strange, fine line,” Hay-Smith said. “We have to make the show vaguely play-like. But the characters (reading from a script) actually are playing to the audience of a microphone.”

One that is set inside a 1940s radio studio.

The presentation includes the movie plot of the golden-hearted George Bailey (played by Tim Staggs) struggling against depression and contemplating suicide one Christmas Eve.

“It’s that everyman kind of story,” Staggs said. “It’s the kind of thing where nearly everybody at some point in their life has thought, ‘Well, what if I had done something differently? Or what if I had made different choices?’

“George Bailey would simply be the extreme, because he’s thinking, ‘Well, what if I never had been born,’” Staggs added.

Staggs is stepping into a role that in two previous Harlequin productions had been handled by Logan Rivera, now away at college.

“Logan did a tremendous job,” Staggs said. “I know I have some big shoes to fill.”

Hay-Smith understands that much has been made of “It’s a Wonderful Life’s” deeper impact on people spiritually or socially. But he sees the structure of it as remarkably similar to another holiday classic.

“It’s really another version of Scrooge, given the (hardened banker) character of Mr. Potter,” Hay-Smith said. “So, most of the time, I’d like people to see this as pure fun.”

And in previous shows, ticket buyers have done just that, complete with booing and hissing Mr. Potter every time an actor portraying him opened his mouth. Moreover, the sound-effects struggle in the show unfolds as quite a humorous visual.

“Half the fun of it,” Hay-Smith said, “is watching Terry (Clark) trying to keep up with the script.”

If you go

What: “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play,” a lighthearted spin-off of the classic 1946 Frank Capra film.

When: 7 p.m. Dec. 15, 16, 22 and 23; 3 p.m. on Dec. 17 and 24.

Where: The Harlequin Theatre inside FairOaks Mall, 2380 25th St. in Columbus.

Show sponsor: Renner Motors in Columbus.

Refreshments: Cash bar available.

Tickets: $15 in advance at the mall or online at theharlequintheatre.brownpapertickets.com or $20 at the door; $10 for students.

Information: 812-343-4597 or theharlequintheatre.com

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.