Most people are at least somewhat familiar with Frank Capra’s beloved 1946 film “It’s a Wonderful Life.” However, the story has also enjoyed a life onstage through several adaptations. One of the more manageable, straightforward, and true-to-the-film versions is James W. Rodgers’ 1993 incarnation. Harnett Regional Theater, under the skilled direction of Ruth Mills, wisely chose this particular version, which gets right to the heart of the story and then moves it along quickly, for its holiday show, and what a show it is.
The incredible casting is one of the first things of note in this production. Eddie White is perfectly gentle, kind, and just a bit bumbling in his portrayal of Clarence Odbody, a guardian angel who has been sent to help the struggling George Bailey (Tim Morris), a down-on-his-luck family man. Morris also plays his part well, effectively juggling the roller-coaster of emotions his character goes through over the course of the long-spanning script. Other adept characterizations include Krista Wilson’s endearing portrayal of Mary Hatch and Dennis McCool’s hilariously crotchety Mr. Potter, the show’s villain. McCool obviously understands that every story needs someone to hate, and he milks his miserly role for all it’s worth, resulting in pure comic gold. A large ensemble cast also provides a few laughs along the way, as well as several tender moments.
Mills seems to understand that such rich characterization does not require a lot of “frou-frou” sets and props, so she keeps the production somewhat minimalist in style. The few “extras” that are chosen, however, are astounding and deserve the attention they’re given. A few beautifully painted set pieces used here and there- an incredible vintage wheel chair- and a gorgeous Christmas tree- these few, fabulous objects prove more than enough to create visual appeal for the production. Lighting touches are also kept to a minimum but are used well throughout; the old-school spotlighting used for Bailey’s “flashbacks” are especially noteworthy.
While these things alone are enough to make the show stellar, there are little bonuses thrown in as well. Audience members get treated to a gorgeous solo by one of the younger cast members, and, as is usually the case with HRT’s shows, cute kids abound. Peter Klisiewecz makes for an especially adorable little newspaper boy/Tommy Bailey, and the other Bailey kids are about as precious as can be.
Adorable children aside, this show is completely heartwarming and definitely a perfect pick for the holiday season.
The Harnett Regional Theatre will present IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15 and 20-22 and 2:30 p.m. Nov. 23 in Stewart Theater, 114 N. Wilson Ave., Dunn, North Carolina 28334, in Historic Downtown Dunn.
TICKETS: $15 ($10 students and seniors).
BOX OFFICE: https://squareup.com/market/onlinehrt.
NEWS RELEASE: http://onlinehrt.org/hrt-to-present-its-a-wonderful-life-next-friday/.
PRESENTER: http://onlinehrt.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/onlinehrt.
“The Greatest Gift” (1943 Christmas story): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Greatest_Gift_(story) (Wikipedia).
“The Greatest Gift” (e-text): http://kbancroft.weebly.com/uploads/2/8/3/7/2837022/the_greatest_gift.pdf (K. Bancroft version).
Philip Van Doren Stern (novelist and historian, 1900-84): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Van_Doren_Stern (Wikipedia).
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946 film): http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/79566/It-s-a-Wonderful-Life/ (Turner Classic Movies), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0038650/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It%27s_a_Wonderful_Life (Wikipedia).
It’s a Wonderful Life (1993 stage play): http://www.dramaticpublishing.com/p735/It%27s-a-Wonderful-Life-%28Rogers%29/product_info.html (Dramatic Publishing).
Dr. James W. Rodgers (playwright): http://www.dramaticpublishing.com/AuthorBio.php?titlelink=9794 (Dramatic Publishing).
Ruth Mills (director): https://www.facebook.com/ruth.mills.549 (Facebook page)
Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh’s Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In addition to her work for Triangle Arts and Entertainment, she is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts and Entertainment articles and reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/susie-q/. To read more of her writings, click http://www.susiepotter.com and http://www.myspace.com/susiepotter.