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Holiday story presented as nostalgic, live radio theater

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The character of George Bailey has become almost as synonymous with Christmas as Rudolph and Frosty.

And Robert Hay-Smith, founder of Columbus’ The Harlequin Theatre, loves Bailey’s legacy through actor Jimmy Stewart’s portrayal of a depressed man on Christmas Eve in the classic 1946 Frank Capra film, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

“If we did that exact show on stage, I think people actually still would be seeing the film (in their mind),” Hay-Smith said.

Instead, Hay-Smith will direct “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play,” to be presented this weekend and next at the 120-seat venue at Columbus’ FairOaks Mall, 2380 25th St.

Eight actors will play more than 30 characters in the 1940s-style production, complete with retro radio commercials and old-style studio sound effects.

Cast members will be reading partly from a script very similar to the movie in which a guardian angel shows Bailey the tremendous impact of his life — to the point that Bailey decides to go on living.

But actors literally will wear various hats to better identify characters.

“There will be just a little bit of tactile stuff between them (on the set),” Hay-Smith said. “It will be an interesting fusion.”

Actress Kristy Kelley, playing the role of Mary Bailey, George’s wife, said she thinks this production “will allow people to see the classic story in a different way.”

She readily acknowledges there always will be a place for the film version.

“I still cannot watch the movie without ending up in tears,” she said.

Like Hay-Smith, she said she remains fascinated by Stewart’s turn as Bailey.

“Even though I love the chance to play the part of Mary, all my favorite parts of the movie are George’s parts,” she said.

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