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"It's A Wonderful Life" Radio Drama Script, Music & Sound Effects

by Tony Palermo

Also available: Stage play version of "It's a Wonderful Life"

I offer a radio-professional's adaptation of Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life--as a radio drama. This version is faithful to the film while being thoroughly entertaining as a radio-on-stage production. I am a professional radio dramatist and sound effects artist, a veteran of over 1600 radio shows--who has worked with the greats from the Golden Age and today--on-air and on-stage. I've used my extensive radio drama expertise to craft a Wonderful Life that brings the delight of classic radio drama to modern audiences.

My adaptation is intended to be performed as a 1940s-era live radio show, taking place on-stage, with actors reading from scripts while standing at microphones, and sound effects artists doing the doors, footsteps in snow, Mr. Potter's squeaky wheelchair, etc. The script works for live broadcast, podcast or audiobook, but my focus is in presenting theater audiences with an authentic and delightful experience of radio drama in its heyday.

The full version of the script runs 102 minutes--without intermission--but breaks into three acts. For troupes wishing a shorter show, I also offer a 60-minute version--that omits the Violet Bick character completely and pares back other scenes and trims dialogue. However, the story still holds up.

Additionally, I offer pre-recorded sound effects and pre-recorded music tracks using an authentic radio-drama organ score (plus some piano, accordion and jazz combo tracks.) Sheet music for the organ/piano score is also available, so a single keyboardist can accompany the show--live.

The script comes with a 60 page appendix: How to Produce 'Wonderful Life' as a Radio-on-Stage Show, detailing everything from thematic approaches to the material, to casting monologues, a sound effects cookbook, pre-recorded track listings, audio gear resources, right down to instructions for “working” a microphone. Additionally, there’s a history of how radio-on-stage shows were produced in the Golden Age of 1940s radio and how you can blend the various styles to fit your troupe's resources and likings.

The performance royalty is based upon the venue (school, stage, recording, or broadcast) and the number of performances/broadcasts. Contact me at and tell me about your intended production for a quote.  Sample copies of the script are available as PDF files. (See the link below.)

I accept payments via the free and secure www.paypal.com service.

TO ORDER: Contact me at and tell me which version of the script you are interested in--the 100-minute or 60-minute version. Also tell me about your intended production (venue size, seating capacity, ticket prices, how many performances, etc.) I deliver the script (and optional sheet music score) via e-mail as a PDF file, and the pre-recorded music cues and pre-recorded sound effects tracks can either be downloaded as MP3 files, or shipped via regular mail in the form of audio CDs. The live sound effects (bells, plates, footsteps, etc.) are up to you to assemble, but my script has a "cookbook" section explaining how to make each sound using items you can find in your town.

As an experienced theater pro, I understand that sometimes changes need to be made to fit a troupe's resources--and cast makeup. Unlike other playwrights, I allow you to skip or alter scenes, change the gender of characters, and fit the script to your troupe. I can even send you a list of recommended cuts if you need to shorten the show. Also, I allow you to make as many photocopies of the script as you need for cast and crew--at no additional fee.

While you must assemble your own live sound effects kit, my script's "SFX cookbook" section explains how to make each sound using items you can find in your town, on-line, or construct. Additionally, since I am a professional sound effects artist, I offer pre-recorded tracks of the more unusual sounds--(plunging into the river, glass breaking, crickets, cars, etc.) for a one-time fee. I also offer pre-recorded music tracks--using an authentic theater organ and piano--for a one-time fee. As stated above, sheet music for the original score is also available for troupes that want live accompaniment for their show.

If you want to produce Wonderful Life as a radio drama, you couldn't find a more authentic and resource-laden version than this.

You may also be interested in my other plays--for the stage, or radio-on-stage:


It's A Wonderful Life is radio veteran Tony Palermo's faithful radio drama adaptation of Frank Capra's classic film about dreams, sacrifice and redemption in small town America. Tony's imaginative radio adaptation has been performed by Hollywood professionals, radio stations, community theatre troupes, and schools across the world. This perennial holiday favorite works well as a live-on-stage performance--one that doesn't require elaborate sets or memorization. The live sound effects (mostly doors, bells, footsteps and vocal "walla walla") always delight live audiences. You can download pre-recorded sound effects (one time fee) and period-correct musical underscore tracks (one time fee) --as MP3 files. Sheet music is also available, matching the pre-recorded tracks of the score.

NOTE: The script includes a 60-page guide How to Produce 'Wonderful Life' as a Radio-on-Stage Show. (sound effects "cookbook", casting monologues, engineering info, advice for live accompanists and more.)

Wonderful Life cast and set 2005

Above, Michael Richards, Sara Rue, Susan Sullivan and Orson Bean appearing in a 2005 production of Tony's adaptation of It's a Wonderful Life. Other productions from Tony's script starred Alfred Molina, Brooke Adams and Tony Shalhoub, as well as another run, starring Joe Mantegna, Sharon Lawrence, Fred Willard, and Jamie Farr.

Free "It's A Wonderful Life" radio drama sample script:
Here's a free, downloadable radio drama "Wonderful Life" sample script, including scene excerpts and a truncated version of the 60-page "How to Produce Radio-On-Stage Shows" appendix:

        SCRIPT SAMPLE - RADIO DRAMA VERSION - It's A Wonderful Life - TRUNCATED.pdf

You can view/print the script, which is in the PDF format, via the free Adobe Acrobat reader program, which works for PCs and Macs. http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2_allversions.html

Tony's Notes On Interpreting 'It's A Wonderful Life'
Valuable information about how I've approached this adaptation and suggestions for how you handle your production.

Cast size:

Throughout the play, there are never more than 11 characters in a scene, so a small cast can easily perform the entire show. However, you can employ anywhere from 11 to 35 actors.

Maximum: 10 men, 9 women, 16 men-OR-women, and optionally, 2 boys and 2 girls (but those roles can be handled by adults--as in the golden age of radio.)
With doubling of roles, this show has been done with only 11 actors (7 men, 4 women) In the sample script above, you will find a 60-page appendix with suggestions for doubling roles.

George Bailey

Dreamer/Loan Officer (male)

Clarence

Angel, Second Grade (male)

Uncle Billy

Absent-minded clerk (male)

Mr. Potter

Warped, old financier (male)

Bert

Local policeman (male)

Ernie

Cab driver (male)

SAM WAINWRIGHT

Successful businessman (male)

POP Bailey

George’s father (male)

Harry Bailey

George’s younger brother (male)

MR. WELCH

Irate husband (male)

Mary Hatch Bailey

George’s Wife/Librarian (female)

VIOLET BICK

Sultry gal (female) - only appears in the 100-minute version.

Ma Bailey

George’s mother (female)

Cousin Tilly

Loan office clerk (female)

Mrs. Hatch

Mary’s mother (female)

Zuzu Bailey

Girl, age 5 (female)

Janie Bailey

Girl, age 8 (female)

DR. CAMPBELL Board President (male/female)

MRS. THOMPSON

Shareholder (female)

Mrs. DAVIS

Shareholder (female)

SUPERINTENDENT

Boss of Angels (male/female)

ANNOUNCER

Radio announcer (male/female)

Gower

Pharmacist (male/female)

Nick

Bartender (male/female)

MARTINI

Italian café owner (male/female)

CHARLIE

Difficult shareholder (male/female)

Young George Bailey

Boy, age 10 (male/female)

TOLL-TAKER

Toll-taker (male/female)

BANK TELLER

Bank clerk (male/female)

Cousin Eustace

Loan office clerk (male/female) - only appears in the 100-minute version.

Carter

Bank Examiner (male/female)

PeteY Bailey

Boy, age 9 (male/female)

impatient NEIGHBOR

Impatient neighbor (male/female)

RANDY

Shareholder (male/female)

SHERIFF

County Sheriff (male/female)

EdDY

Shareholder (male/female) - only appears in the 100-minute version.

ALSO:    1 or 2 on-stage SOUND EFFECTS ARTISTS for live SFX (and optionally, pre-recorded SFX)

ALSO:    Sound technician to trigger pre-recorded music (and optionally, pre-recorded SFX)

OPTIONAL: Live keyboardist to play organ and piano using sheet music of the original score.

Sound Effects:

SFX artist, Tony Palermo 2005       SFX artist, Tony Palermo 2005

This show requires 1 or 2 sound  effects artists who can perform the live SFX (and, optionally, trigger pre-recorded SFX, too.)

Live sound effects for "It's A Wonderful Life":
The full script offers detailed instructions on how to find/make them in the SFX cookbook section of the 60-page appendix.

1.

TINGLING WIND CHIMES

2.

 ICE CRACKING

3.

 PHONE RINGS

4.

 PHONE HANDSET PICKED UP/HUNG UP

5.

 PHONE BEING DIALED

6.

 FACE SLAPS

7.

 DINNER PLATES/FORKS

8.

 FOOTSTEPS ON SIDEWALK

9.

 DOG BARKS/HOWLS

10.

 ROBE BEING RIPPED

11.

 SHAKING FLOWER BUSH

12.

 GAVEL

13.

 JIMMY, THE TALKING BIRD

14.

 DOOR OPENING/CLOSING/SHUT

15.

 BELL ATTACHED TO DOOR RINGS

16.

 CREAKING DOOR OPENING

17.

 DOOR LOCKING

18.

 PHONOGRAPH CLICKED ON

19.

 NEEDLE SCRATCHES RECORD

20.

 ENVELOPE OF MONEY RUSTLED

21.

 CAB DOOR OPENS/SHUTS

22.

 FLAPPING BIRD WINGS

23.

 KNITTING NEEDLES QUIETLY KNITTING

24.

 TYPEWRITER (KEYS AND BELL)

25.

 SQUEAKY WHEELCHAIR

26.

 NEWSPAPER FLEXED/HANDED OVER

27.

 FOOTSTEPS IN SNOW

28.

 MODEL BRIDGE BEING DESTROYED

29.

 PAPER HANDED OVER

30.

 BARROOM GLASSES CLINKING

31.

 PUNCH

32.

 BODY DROP

33.

 THUNDER ROLL

34.

 CASH REGISTER KA-CHING & BELL

35.

 DRINKS BEING SET DOWN ON BAR

36.

 BOTTLE BEING SLAMMED DOWN ON BAR

37.

 SCUFFLES

38.

 CRASH OF TRASH CAN

39.

 WOMAN STAGGERS IN HIGH HEELS

40.

 FRANTIC POUNDING ON DOOR

41.

 POLICE WHISTLE

42.

 GUNSHOTS

43.

 SEARCHING A POCKET

44.

 CHAMPAGNE CORK POP

45.

 BOOK OPENED

46.

 SMALL TEA BELL RUNG

Pre-recorded sound effects for "It's A Wonderful Life":
30 minutes of pre-recorded tracks (of sounds not easily produced live), available as downloadable MP3 files.  

Track

Page-Cue

Description

01

P04-C10

Icy splashes into pond

02

P05-C03

Gower’s phone rings (3X) – can be done live, also

03

P13-C02

Crickets #1

04

P15-C02

Distant window shattered by rock #1

05

P15-C10

Distant window shattered by rock #2

06

P17-C14

Car pulls up, idles--under

07

P27-C03

Downtown Bedford Falls (Traffic)

08

P28-C07

Ernie’s cab pulls away from curb

09

P30-C08

Crickets #2

10

P33-C03

“Buffalo Gals” 78 RPM record

11

P33-C08

Mary’s phone rings (20X) – can be done live, also

12

P38-C07

Interior of cab driving #1

13

P40-C02

Cab pulls over

14

P43-C04

Uncle Billy’s phone rings (1-½X) – can be live, also

15

P50-C08

Office phone rings (1-¼X) – can be done live, also

16

P52-C07

Potter’s clock ticking in background #1

17

P69-C08

Bailey phone rings (2X) – can be live, also

18

P71-C01

Potter’s clock ticking in background #2

19

P78-C03

Clarence jumps in river, splashes around

20

P78-C06

George jumps in river, splashes around

21

P81-C13

Magical harp glissando--UP

22

P86-C04

Wind #1

23

P87-C04

Downtown Pottersville (Traffic)

24

P88-C10

Interior of cab driving #2

25

P92-C03

Wind #2 (Cemetery)

26

P96-C02

Wind #3 (Bridge)

27

P96-C11

Magical harp glissando--DOWN

MUSIC:

Pre-recorded musical tracks for "It's A Wonderful Life":
36 minutes worth of Jonathan Green's original music--featuring 1940s theater organ, piano, accordion and jazz combo--available as downloadable MP3 files.

ALSO: Downloadable SHEET MUSIC for the organ and piano cues. See below for details...

Composer Jonathan Green at his organ.

Here's a free MP3 clip demonstrating the "Wonderful Life" score's authentic radio organ and how it accompanies the show's intro:
       DEMO-Wonderful-Life-organ-and-intro.mp3 (1.4 MB)

Here's a sample of the sheet music for the above cue:

Track

Page/Cue

Description

1.

P01-C01

(BED) “Wonderful Overture" (Radio Theatre Theme)

2.

P02-C01

(BED) “Wonderful Life Intro”

3.

P02-C03

(BED) “Heavenly”

4.

P05-C02

(BRIDGE) “Gower’s Sad Drugstore”

5.

P06-C12

(BED) “Tender Moment”

6.

P07-C03

(BRIDGE) “Up and Segue into “Heavenly”

7.

P12-C05

(BED) “Heavenly”

8.

P13-C01

(BRIDGE) Last 2 Bars of “Buffalo Gals” setup

9.

P18-C05

(BRIDGE) “Tragic” into “Heavenly”

10.

P24-C03

(BRIDGE) “Oh Well” segues to “Heavenly”

11.

P27-C04

(BRIDGE) “Downtown Bedford Falls”

12.

P30-C07

(BRIDGE) “From Violet to Mary”

13.

P37-C10

(BED) “Wrenching”

14.

P37-C16

(BED) “Heavenly”

15.

P38-C06

(BRIDGE) “Wedding March Taxi”

16.

P40-C09

(BED) “Act 1 Outro”

17.

P41-C01

(BED) “Wonderful Life Act 2 Intro”

18.

P41-C04

(BED) “Heavenly”

19.

P49-C17

(BED) “Time Passing”

20.

P52-C01

(BRIDGE) “Bride” to “Heavenly”

21.

P56-C06

(BRIDGE) “Indignant” to “Sleepy”

22.

P57-C10

(BRIDGE) “Baby” to “Heavenly”

23.

P58-C07

(BED) “War Montage”

24.

P63-C16

(BRIDGE) “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” - ends sourly

25.

P65-C07

(BRIDGE) “Lost” to “Heavenly”

26.

P66-C11

(BRIDGE) “Desperate” -- Let it Finish

27.

P66-C12

(SOURCE) Janie Piano Practice - #1 - “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”

28.

P67-C02

(SOURCE) Janie Piano Practice - #2 - “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”

29.

P69-C16

(SOURCE) Janie Piano Practice - #3 - “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”

30.

P70-C17

(BRIDGE) “Troubled”

31.

P73-C12

(BRIDGE) “Cruel” to “Heavenly”

32.

P75-C01

(SOURCE) “Santa Lucia” on accordion--gets abruptly stopped

33.

P76-C07

(BRIDGE) “Alone” to “Heavenly”

34.

P76-C13

(BRIDGE) ACT 2 Outro --ends in suspense chord

35.

P78-C01

(BED) “Act 3 Intro/“Dire Bridge”

36.

P83-C01

(SOURCE) “Juke Joint Jingle Bells”--under entire scene

37.

P87-C03

(SOURCE) “Pottersville Streetscene”--Jazz combo under entire scene

38.

P88-C08

(BRIDGE) “I Know That Girl”

39.

P89-C05

(BRIDGE) “Empty Granville House”

40.

P90-C10

(GLISSANDO UP) “Magical Help”

41.

P90-C16

(BRIDGE) “Escape” to “Mean Mother”

42.

P92-C02

(BED) “Shattered” to “The Cemetery”

43.

P94-C10

(BRIDGE) “Lightly” to “Old Maid”

44.

P96-C01

(BED) “Lynch Mob” to “Redemption”

45.

P98-C04

(BED) “Organ: Hark The Herald Angels Sing”

46.

Q101-C12

(BED) “Piano: Auld Lang Syne” – Janie playing

47.

Q101-C12a

(BED) “Piano: Auld Lang Syne” – Regular playing (OPTIONAL)

48.

Q103-C01

(BED) “Organ: Auld Lang Syne” – Chorus only

49.

Q103-C02

(BED) “Organ:Auld Lang Syne” – Verse & 2 choruses (OPTIONAL)

Sheet Music for "It's A Wonderful Life" score: 

Cover of 'Wonderful Life" sheet-music score booklet           Sheet music sample for Wonderful Life score

I also offer sheet music that matches the above-described original score--to allow a single keyboardist to accompany your show--LIVE. The instrumentation consists of organ and piano.  The score is delivered via e-mail as a PDF document. The book also contains info on how to get 1940s organ sounds and plans for building an organ "shell" to give modern keyboards a period-authentic look. NOTE: The accordion and jazz combo cues would be produced by pre-recorded tracks—included when you purchase the sheet music.

Free "It's A Wonderful Life" Radio Drama Score:
Here's a downloadable radio drama sheet music excerpt:

        SHEET MUSIC  SAMPLE - RADIO DRAMA - It's A Wonderful Life Overture - TRUNCATED.pdf

ALSO:  Many troupes find it useful to purchase both the sheet music AND the pre-recorded music tracks—since this allows the actors and crew to rehearse the full show without having the accompanist present at every rehearsal.


TONY PALERMO is an audio theatre producer, performer, and educator living in Los Angeles, California.
He performs professionally, conducts workshops, and produces programs for hire.
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Last modified: 09/24/13