A Christmas classic brought to the stage 1

Kirk Gostkowski, left, Sarah Bierstock, Nick Fondulis and Mark A. Keeton in “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” at the Chain Theatre.

“No man is a failure if he has friends,” is one of the more poignant lines from Frank Capra’s Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and no play is a failure when it perfectly captures the essence of the original with a twist that even fans who watch the movie annually on Christmas Eve can enjoy.

Directed by Greg Cicchino, the managing director of the Variations Theatre Group, the play is set at WVTG Playhouse, a fictitious 1940s radio studio broadcasting the play.

The audience gets to see the seven voice actors — many of whom play multiple characters — dressed in period-appropriate clothes, clustered around their microphones reading the script.

Meanwhile, there’s a table covered in props — horns, bells and whistles — where a sound technician inserted the effects.

There were boots for clomping against the table, sirens, a can full of coins and a box that could be knocked over to simulate glass breaking.

Kirk Gostkowski, the co-artistic director of Variations Theater Group, stars as George Bailey, the discouraged protagonist who is about to throw himself into a raging icy river when his guardian angel, Clarence, comically played by Nick Fondulis, swoops down and shows him how awful the lives of everyone he loves would be — and the entire town of Bedford Falls would be a derelict slum — without him.

Gostkowski mimicked Jimmy Stewart’s distinctive speech patterns and nailed the character’s joy to be reunited with his family at the end.

The story resonates particularly strongly now, in a world of stratified wealth.

Mark A. Keeton was especially ruthless as Mr. Potter, the villain who bought up everything in Bedford Falls and condemned the people to living in slums in the George Bailey-less hell-scape.

Keeton versatilely doubled as the radio show’s enthusiastic host.

Sarah Bierstock played Mary Hatch, who became George’s courageous wife and put up their entire life savings to keep Bailey’s business afloat when the Depression hit, with similar grace.

Kelly Jean Clair stars as Rose Bailey, George’s forceful mother, and Gordon Palagi as his father, the founder of Bailey Building and Loan.

The other actors impressively transitioned between characters as well, particularly Christina Perry, who played Violet, the more coquettish girl in town, and Zuzu, Bailey’s young daughter who got sick on her way home from school because she kept her coat open to avoid crushing her flower.

Although it is a play, the fictitious radio show was interrupted a few times by commercials for decade-relevant products, such as a hair tonic that promises “all the girls will scream!” and Doug’s Toilet Cake “the soap of 100 uses.”

Each was followed by the women singing a bubbly jingle to the tune of a popular Christmas song.

When the studio’s applause light came on at the end, the cast received a genuine one from the audience.

The show is just one part of the special “12 Days of Chain Christmas,” a holiday-themed festival featuring a staged reading of “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe” read by Barbara Rosenblat of the Netflix hit “Orange is the New Black” on Dec. 13 at 8 p.m. and a comedy Christmas special with Johan Blindadorf and Friends on Dec. 18 at 8 p.m.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” will run through Dec. 21.

“12 Days of Chain Christmas”
When: Dec. 5 through 21, times vary
Where: Chain Theatre, 21-28 45 Road, LIC
Tickets: Prices vary; chain-theatre.org