RUMFORD — Walking into Scot and Cindy Grassette’s Mystic Theater at 49 Franklin on Tuesday evening was akin to stepping back in time to 1946.
On stage were eight actors with the local Paper Moon Players troupe performing several of the 40 roles in a dress rehearsal of playwright Joe Landry’s “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play.” It’s an adaptation of Frank Capra’s beloved American Christmas fantasy comedy-drama film.
“Because it’s a radio show, there are people playing multiple parts,” Grassette said.
“It’s really a play that’s going to appeal to all ages, particularly people who have listened to real live-radio shows,” he said.
“And also, all of the sound effects make it interesting for the kids to be entertained. Kids in the play here treat it like a sound effects museum. They’re playing with the devices making the noise of the wind, the door and everything. They say I have the best job in the whole thing.”
Scot Grassette said the theater will double as a 1940s radio station, resembling a cocktail lounge, and people buying tickets to watch the play will serve as the live radio audience.
“Back in the day of live radio plays, they actually had a live audience so there was applause during a show,” Grassette said. “And that’s what we actually want to do: bring them back to the 1940s as if there was a real live show going out coast-to-coast.”
That’s why Grassette said he put extra time into making an ON AIR sign and an APPLAUSE sign that lights up at key moments in the play, prompting audience participation.
“When’s the last time you went to a show and had APPLAUSE signs telling you when to applaud?” he asked. “I never have.”
Grassette said he has been collecting devices used in the play’s time period for sound effects. He does a lot of them on stage, including the sound of breaking glass. He built a narrow and tall glass box for that effect to prevent shattered glass from spraying the actors.
Carmen DiConzo is the technologist, using a computer to play period music at key intervals. Grassette said 49 Franklin had to buy the rights to the music to play it in the show.
The play is directed by Grassette’s brother, Keith A. Grassette. Performers include Stephen Penney of Rumford as Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey, Jen Foster, Sara Mae Parlin, Eric Schmersal, Zac Calden, and children Amara Aiken, Braden Duguay and Virginia Owings.
“We’re pretty close to being there right now,” Grassette said. Because it’s a radio play, the performers will read from a playbook while acting out their roles and interacting with other performers.
49 Franklin’s play will last about as long as the movie at nearly 90 minutes. There will be two acts separated by a 15-minute intermission. It is the performing arts venue’s third Christmas play in three years. The first was “Best Christmas Pageant,” and the second was “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!”
Up on stage Tuesday night, Penney was nailing Jimmy Stewart’s mannerisms and voice from the movie.
“He’s been doing great,” Grassette said. “I mean he sounds like Jimmy Stewart, you know, at certain times, especially the emotional ones.”
“Oh, this is kind of fun,” Schmersal said, taking a break from acting. “I can’t wait until we’re doing it in front of a live audience, but there really isn’t a lot of difference (between memorizing lines for theater). I think it’s going to be exciting. I like the effects on stage and I like the microphone in front of us.”
Rehearsals are Mondays and Tuesdays until the play starts.
“I’m really proud of all the plays that we’ve done and this is going to be really rewarding for everybody in it and the people that come out,” Grassette said. “They’ll be like, ‘I’m glad I came.'”
Showtimes are 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 19 and 20, and 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 21. The doors open 90 minutes before each show for pub food and a cash bar. Tickets for the play cost $15 each and can be purchased at Bartash’s and All That Jazz in Rumford and online at www.49Franklin.com.
Grassette said no shows had sold out as of Tuesday, but tickets are on sale.