Once again this Christmas season, the sanctuary at Advent Lutheran Church in Westminster transforms into a radio studio from the 1940s - complete with a studio audience.
The Advent Radio Players is gearing up for its annual Christmas show with a presentation of “Miracle on 34th Street.”
The show is the original script adapted for radio shortly after the movie’s success in theaters in 1947. Back then, shows would be performed live on air and sometimes included a studio audience.
Since 2012, members at Advent Lutheran Church, 7979 Meade St., have been recreating that with various shows. It started with 12 disciples giving presentations during the Lenten season.
JoAnn Bantin and her husband, Fred, are the founding members of the Advent Radio Players.
“She was a theater major in college and I’m an electronics technician and so I always do the sound,” Fred said.
Everette Brailey is the director of this year’s performance of “Miracle on 34th Street.” He’s been involved with the Advent Radio Players since its production of “The Great Gildersleeve,” a situation comedy radio show produced in the 1940s and 1950s.
“JoAnn came and twisted my arm,” Brailey said about why he got involved.
Through the years, members of the church — and a few from outside the congregation — have produced radio-style shows like “Arsenic and Old Lace,” “Fibber McGee and Molly” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
The cast of the upcoming “Miracle on 34th Street” includes about two dozen cast members performing and about a dozen volunteers behind the scenes. Brailey said many people in this season’s performance have been involved since the beginning and there are newcomers for nearly every show. It’s in part due to interest and — in Brailey’s case — in part due to persuasive recruiting.
“JoAnn is a sweet old lady who doesn’t take `no’ for an answer,” Brailey said.
Jan Bordner has been involved for several years and is portraying Fred Gailey, the lawyer who defends Kris Kringle.
“I’m an opposite of what I’m doing,” Bordner said. “I’m kind of quiet and I think it helps me be a little bit vocal.”
While shows like “Miracle on 34th Street” are classics recognized in today’s pop culture, older ones like “The Great Gildersleeve” have fewer fans familiar with the program.
“Nobody knew who the Gildersleeve was so we had a couple-minute opening,” Fred said.
Even with “Miracle on 34th Street,” though, there will be an introduction to explain the format. The show is complete with “ON AIR” and “APPLAUSE” signs.
“The joys of radio … we’ve got our special applause light — we insist the audience is a studio audience, so we insist they participate,” Brailey explained. “We give them clues as to when to jump in.”
The radio-style of the show also affords versatility to create, through suggestion and sound, what they wouldn’t be able to do in a stage play. Costuming will be suggestive, like just the coat and hat for Santa, not necessarily the full suit with boots. And sound effects are key.
“Things like the judge’s gavel, in this one, makes a difference,” Fred said.
Fred said they try to keep as much like a radio broadcast as possible.
“Timing in radio is important, five seconds of nothing is like a half hour,” Fred said. “If you’re on the stage and you’re looking at the characters, that’s a different story than you’re listening to it. We try to abide by that.”
The performance is at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 17. There is a suggested $7 donation.
“The money is for something of value and special interest for the congregation,” Brailey explained.
In the past, it has helped pay for things like a motorized chair to go up and down stairs in the church.
However, no one will be turned away who cannot pay.
“We have looked at this as a ministry of the church,” Brailey said. “When people think of ministry they generally think in terms — you have to go out and you’re helping someone, some poor person or something. But the reality is ministry can also be fun and joy. And if you can bring fun and joy to people, that’s a good ministry — particularly at Christmastime.”
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