The simple stop-and-smell-the-Christmas-tree virtues of the holiday chestnut "It's a Wonderful Life," lessons about gratitude, community, friendship and family, never fail to pay off in the raw emotion of its final scenes, guaranteed to warm the heart and moisten the eye.
"I've never watched the movie without crying at the end," says Caroline Breder-Watts, host and producer of WLRN's "Sunday Breakfast With the Arts." "No matter how many times I've seen it, I say, 'Oh, come on, this old warhorse, I'm not going to cry.' But when they start singing 'Auld Lang Syne,' and [saying] he's the richest man in town, I just dissolve."
This week, the story will be made all the more sugary and nostalgic with the live radio-play version put on Wednesday through Friday by Arts Garage Radio Theatre in downtown Delray Beach. The production is part of a series of Arts Garage radio plays created by Breder-Watts and husband John Watts, who use live actors and a carnival of sound effects to make snowy Bedford Falls come to life.
"It's a Wonderful Life" sold out its two 2013 performances at the 125-seat Arts Garage, and a third show is being offered this year.
"There's such a freshness about it when you see it on a stage, being performed live, particularly with all the fun sound effects, and it really is an emotional experience," says Breder-Watts, also a member of the cast that includes Cliff Burgess, John Felix, Dan Leonard, Barry Tarallo, Steve Anthony, Leah Sessa and WLRN on-air voice Christine DiMattei. Breder-Watts' 11-year-old daughter, Victoria, as Zuzu, will tell us what happens every time a bell rings.
The audiences for Arts Garage Radio Theatre productions have always impressed Breder-Watts for their multigenerational makeup, and she expects "It's a Wonderful Life" to be especially popular with families.
While the holiday season may make us more susceptible to a good cry, Breder-Watts believes the story of George Bailey earns its moments of catharsis by taking viewers into fairly bleak existential gloom.
"It's a dark story," says Breder-Watts, who produces the online Arts Radio Network with her husband and leads frequent discussions and lectures on film across South Florida. "This man, George Bailey, goes through the emotional wringer. He's driven practically to suicide. He is really in his depth when the angel comes along.
"That's unusual for holiday movies," she says. "Certainly, they can be emotional and touching and whatnot, but this really goes to a dark place. But that's what's so great, when he realizes life is suddenly worth living, forgetting all the stuff he thought was important. That's something we all can identify with."
"It's a Wonderful Life" will be performed 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17-19 at the Arts Garage, 180 NE First St., in Delray Beach. Tickets cost $20, $25 and $30. Call 561-450-6357 or visit ArtsGarage.org.