Plot points may be revealed below.
We’re inside the WBFR radio studio: Microphones, a sound effects table, an “applause” sign grace the stage. The actors gather, mingle, check their scripts, and the announcer welcomes us to a Christmas Eve broadcast of the It’s a Wonderful Life. The story unfolds, with just four actors voicing all the parts:
Clarence, an angel in heaven, hears prayers for a man named George Bailey. George needs help. Clarence must save him—and if he does, he’ll earn his angel’s wings.
We see George’s life: an honest kid with big dreams, George once saved his brother Harry’s life when he fell through an icy pond. The town is Bedford Falls, and George’s father runs the local Building and Loan, helping its humble residents achieve the American Dream—and warding off the villainous slumlord Mr. Potter.
George longs to get out of Bedford Falls and travel the world. But when his father dies, he gives up a European trip so he can take on the business; when the greedy Mr. Potter tries to dissolve it, he gives up college so he can keep it afloat; when the Depression hits, he uses his honeymoon savings to rescue it once again.
So George remains in Bedford Falls after all; sticks with the modest family business, always lending a hand to the hardworking townspeople; gets married to his sweetheart Mary; has a family; watches his brother Harry become a war hero.
Then, disaster: George’s uncle misplaces $8,000 of the Building and Loan’s money. George panics; it will mean bankruptcy, scandal, prison. He loses his temper, yells at Mary, insults his own kids. Out of options, he runs off—and his family prays.
He’s ready to take his own life, when the angel Clarence appears. When George wishes he’d never been born, Clarence sees an opportunity: he makes it so, and gives George a tour of this new, George-less world.
It’s downright awful: Potter runs the depraved town, seedy bars, strip joints and all. George’s friends don’t recognize him. Mary is lonely and unmarried. And his brother Harry is dead: he drowned as a kid, since George wasn’t there to save him. The men Harry should have saved in the war died too. “One man’s life touches so many others,” Clarence advises. George begs for his life back: and just like that, the real world returns.
George explodes with joy, though he knows he’s bound for prison. He rushes home to his family, and is greeted with a miraculous surprise: the whole town has turned out to help, crowding the house: They’ve raised the funds to replace the lost money.
Clarence has earned his wings. And with a heartfelt chorus of “Auld Lang Syne,” the broadcast ends.