Backstage of the Hills West auditorium, students are rushing to get ready. Describe this scene in one word: electric. The cast is getting dressed, putting on their wigs, stressing to make sure they know all of their lines and be ready promptly for their call time. Meanwhile, our stage crew is setting up the lights, the music and clarifying their cues with the directors of when to begin the show. Our directors, making sure everything is going according to plan while watching over a dozen kids at once. And this was only the rehearsal!
Attention all students of High School West! Our Hills West Drama Club has been hard at work since the beginning of the school year to present us with the wonderful production of It’s a Wonderful Life Radio Drama.
The play retells the classic Christmas story from the 1940s, but this time, it is set in a 1940s radio station. In this production, we see George Bailey, portrayed by Given Kongolo, see his own life through a flashback. The play takes us through George’s life story and the importance of enjoying life while George simultaneously battles his thoughts of hopelessness. In the original movie, George faces many problems leading him to suicide, despite it being Christmas. The narrative takes the viewer on a dizzying ride through financial and personal mayhem.
The sentimental side of the story features the angels pondering the future of George’s life. Clarence, the guardian angel, presented by Isaac Kongolo in our production, creates an arresting relationship with our protagonist and reveals why life’s empowering purposes are not worth sacrificing.
Given Kongolo stated that representing the character of George has allowed him to “explore a different aspect of acting [compared to a] typical play.” Given also mentioned that he can relate to George Bailey in sharing his “old soul mentality.” In the play, George’s father says that he was “born older” than he is perceived, meaning he relates to older generations and traditions.
Mr. Ferretti, a social studies teacher here at Hills West, could attest to Given’s similarity to George. While in his US History class, Mr. Ferretti used to call Given an “old soul” when he expressed that he missed “when we didn’t have computers or phones, and everyone made real interactions.” “[Given] had an interesting insight on a time that he wasn’t there to experience,” explained Mr. Ferretti.
The brotherly dynamic between Given and Isaac Kongolo is a factor of this play that we are very excited to see. For years, Given and Isaac have been participating in school plays together and, according to Isaac, have always managed to be related in the various productions. In the drama, Given portrays George in distress and is shown the positive side of life by an angel, portrayed by Isaac. Isaac mentioned how meaningful it is to be playing this part to “show the audience the value of life and that it should not just be thrown away.” Being siblings, Given and Isaac have a unique on-stage chemistry that enhances both of their performances. Isaac explained that due to this, they could “yell at each other a little more and can make things personal,” exerting all of their emotion into their characters. Whether playing on the same sports team or working together in a play, these brothers have found ways to work together to communicate their best performances.
Sally Applewhite (who plays Mary Hatch and Young Mary) is portrayed by Hana Draskin, while Franny Filmore, Joseph, Mr. Gower, Old Man Collins, and the Bridgekeeper are represented by Gioianna DiGiorgio. Both seniors expressed their love for these characters. Hana described Mary Hatch as a “hopeless romantic and a compassionate woman who wants to help others around her.” She further explained that embodying her character has demonstrated how “kindness can impact others.” Gioianna, similar to her character Frannie, loves to be on stage. She described Frannie as a person who “is always excited to tell the audience a story,” which is how she fell in love with theater in the first place. Gioianna says that she loves “letting the audience lose themselves in a wonderful story with me.” Both Hana and Gioianna have found their homes in musical theater. They’ve described the atmosphere of theater in Half Hollow Hills as a supportive and loving community. Hana mentioned how great it is to “be surrounded by others who adore something as much as you do.”
Theatre West is fortunate to be able to conduct the Fall Drama even through the Covid-19 pandemic this year. Last year, Ms. Ievolo and Mr. Riccuiti could not hold the play indoors, so they resorted to a drive-in style pre-recording. This year’s radio show allows the actors to continue to be safe and maintain their distance from each other while also performing on stage. However, this was not without its own set of challenges. “It was difficult to get a full sense of the emotion and expressions of the actors while hidden behind their masks. I could often imagine what their expressions would look like and think, it’s just too bad that the audience isn’t going to get to see these reactions,” said Mrs. Ievolo. Many students missed performing on a stage, such as Nivea Khondaker, who plays Zuzu, and others in this production. She said that she “missed the chance to perform” and “was happy to be a part of the Theatre West family again.”
It’s a Wonderful Life will inspire you with its plot and execution. The hard work put in by the students and the play’s directors: Ms. Ievolo, director, and Mr. Riccuiti, assistant director, was evident in the energy already onstage during rehearsal. “The cast was so excited to be back on the stage- they felt the positive energy of working in the space and the characters really came alive,” added Ms. Ievolo. Mrs. O’Grady, in charge of the business side, also worked hard to make sure the online seating worked out, even though capacity is limited to only one-third of the usual capacity. Mrs. Curry, the crew director, was able to repurpose some older set designs for this production but also used the equipment in our Maker Space, with the help of Marianne Orilia.
Be sure to come to the show this weekend! Show dates are Saturday, November 13, @ 7 p.m., and Sunday afternoon, November 14, @ 1 p.m Anyone interested in watching the play should purchase their tickets online @
Congratulations to our seniors! It’s been an adventure. Good Luck!