'It's a Wonderful Life' on three LI stages

Regina Schneider as Mary and other characters with

Regina Schneider as Mary and other characters with Steve Corbellini as George Bailey star in "It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play" at Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts through Dec. 22, 2013. (Credit: Handout)

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"A Prairie Home Companion" meets "It's a Wonderful Life."

It's such a popular idea that three Long Island theaters are staging it this weekend. Since you can't be in three places at once, we chose the first "It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play" to open.

Directed by admitted "Wonderful Life" novice Ken Washington, there's a sense of a world premiere, circa 1946, about Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts' staging. Adapted by Joe Landry from the beloved screenplay by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra and Jo Swerling, the radio play premiered in 1996 in Stamford, Conn. It's proliferated regionally ever since.

Previous stage imitators -- particularly the musical versions -- failed to capture the film's careening from dark fantasy to a feel-good tear-jerker. Landry more or less replicates the screenplay with key excisions: He drops the swimming-pool-under-the-gym-floor scene and Mary's sprint away from George that leaves her hiding, inadvertently naked, in a hydrangea bush. Also, Uncle Billy's misplacement of an $8,000 deposit into Mr. Potter's hands -- the event that drives our hero, George Bailey, to the brink of suicide -- is altered for clarity.

Five actors play myriad roles, usually attempting (sometimes succeeding) to approximate the original voices. Michael Bertolini's Mr. Potter is as grating as Lionel Barrymore's. Regina Schneider as Mary and Mel Newman, doubling as Violet and the onstage pianist, spar like jealous rivals in an early soda- fountain scene at Mr. Gower's, gruffly voiced by Michael Newman, while Bill Kahn gets an occasional laugh as wingless angel Clarence.

Only Steve Corbellini as George has the luxury of speaking with just one voice -- his own. Director Washington wisely decided that mimicking Jimmy Stewart might too easily slide into parody.

The rest of the cast plays a half-dozen roles each and produces all the sound effects, from squishing footsteps in the snow to clanking coins -- spoiler alert? -- as most of Bedford Falls comes to George's rescue.

For the audio-only effect, consider closing your eyes for a moment during the show.

It helps to be familiar with the movie. But in that case, the radio play adds little, unless you count the caroling by Smithtown High School East's Chamber Choir, the Bedford Falls locator map and faux commercials. Windshield bug spot remover? We told you it's like "Prairie Home Companion."

WHAT "It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play"

WHEN|WHERE 2 and 8 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, through Dec. 22, Smithtown Center for the Arts, 2 Main St. ($35; 631-724- 3700, smithtownpac.org). Also, BroadHollow's Studio Theatre, Lindenhurst, through Jan. 4 ($25; broadhollow.org, 631-226-8400); North Fork Community Theatre, Mattituck, Saturday and Sunday ($15; nfct.com, 631-298-6328)

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