UNION, NJ — Just before the doors at Unity Bank on Stuyvesant Avenue open on Saturday, Dec. 5, and Sunday, Dec. 6, for the afternoon performances of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” a Theatre Project production reminiscent of 1940’s radio shows, people will be encouraged to gather for a holiday sing-along and kindle a sense of holiday spirit.
That, ultimately, is the theme at the heart of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” said Theatre Project artistic director and Union resident Mark Spina: Bringing people together near the center of town, and give them something to feel happy about.
“It’s a wonderful show about friendship, and the value of ordinary lives. It’s a great holiday message,” said Spina, a Union resident. “I can’t help going through that intersection. Every time I see an empty store, I think ‘wouldn’t it be great to have an arts presence here that would bring more people to downtown Union, that would bring more foot traffic to businesses — there’s some really great restaurants, some really great shops.”
Bringing more foot traffic into the area is partially why the Union Special Improvement District is supporting the show, which will recreate the experience of a 1940’s show and the Lux Radio Theater. It won’t be broadcast, but the cast members, for example, will wear authentic clothing from the time period, when the radio edition of “It’s a Wonderful Life” turned it into a cultural sensation.
“It reminds people of the period, the post-World War II period, and for the kids in the audience, they’ll notice that it takes place in a difference time. For those of us who are a bit older, it takes us back, it evokes those memories,” said Spina. “Some patrons don’t feel in the holiday spirit until they see ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ then they can go out and get their tree or whatever kicks off their holiday season.”
The show features 12 actors — including several from Union — a musician, and a sound technician who will prepare for the big radio broadcast of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which was originally a film that neither critics nor the public particularly appreciated. And the sing-along beforehand, said Spina, will help people get into the spirit of the story.
“In the old days of radio, they used to warm the audience up before a broadcast by having a sing-along, or a comic would come out, to get the audience to react,” said Spina. “That’s something we’ve done every year, also, as part of the radio experience. We’d love to become a holiday tradition for some people, the way the tree lighting is a tradition, the way the movie is a tradition.”
After the show on Sunday, audience members are encouraged to be a part of that Tree Lighting Ceremony, which is just a few blocks away and set to begin at 5 p.m. in front of the Municipal Building. For a show about communities coming together, there’s no better way to end the evening, said Spina.
“This story about the value of friendship and small acts of kindness seems to become more and more popular every year,” said Spina. “We’re hoping to meet some new people from Union and at the same time, introduce our ‘regulars’ to the great shops and restaurants in the downtown shopping district.”
The radio play will be performed on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 5 and 6, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. in the lobby of Unity Bank, 952 Stuyvesant Ave. The sing-along will start at 1:45 p.m. Public is welcome, admission is charged. For information call 908-809-8865.