By Lynn Geyer
How many times have you seen “It’s a Wonderful Life?”
Thanks to Turner Classic Movies, probably more time than Santa has reindeer.
But did you know (legend has it) that Jimmy Stewart wasn’t the first choice for George and Donna Reed almost didn’t make it for Mary?
Frank Capra was eager to get Stewart for the part, as he had just been discharged from the Air Corps, and wanted to snag the super star before anyone else did. They say, Capra called Stewart and said he had a movie for him. Stewart asked what it was about and Capra sketched out a very brief synopsis of the show. Finally, Stewart agreed (he wanted to get back to work ASAP, himself) and Capra had someone write the script!
This is the story (for those of you who don’t have a television set) of George Bailey, who has given up everything in life he thought he wanted in order to stay home and help the family. When his uncle makes a mammoth mistake, and George finds he must pay for it, he wishes he had never been born. George makes this wish in front of his Guardian Angel, Clarence, who grants George’s wish.
George looks for his life to find that not only was he never there but all the other lives he had touched were also changed for the worse. Finally, George realizes all life has meaning and worthiness no matter what the problems and Clarence reverses his wish.
It’s a wonderful time of the year when we can see our old friends make the same mistakes and still come out on top of the season when the final bell rings and Zuzu makes her precious statement: “Every time a bell rings…” well, you know the rest.
Though it was never a box office hit, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is considered one of the most critically acclaimed films ever made.
But here’s the big news! Anthony E. Palermo, an old-time radio entrepreneur, has turned one of his radio plays into a stage play and Tacoma Little Theatre has it!
“It’s a Wonderful Life” is TLT’s welcome holiday event that follows the movie almost word for word.
Director Maria Valenzuela, who is so adept with musical theatre and opera, takes a stab at straight play-acting direction. Valenzuela adds a lot of her musical theatre moves to this play, which are sometimes disconcerting – such as the actors breaking the fourth wall and addressing their lines directly to the audience. Much done in opera and musical productions, this is frowned on in “straight” theatre (unless it’s definitely called for).
Outside of that, Valenzuela easily handles the giant cast of 31 on the unique set designed by Blake R. York.
York has given the show a street scene of Bedford Falls store fronts, including George and Mary’s house on Sycamore Street. However, when action takes place behind one of the façade’s closed doors, the “inside” is brought on-stage by the cast by way of wagons, wheeled-furniture and just brute strength. At times, this proves a bit noisy, but all is forgiven because of the perfect timing the crew does in the dim-out.
Pavlina Morris lights the show, Michele Graves does the costume design and Zachary Kellog provides piano accompaniment. All this is overseen by Stage Manager Kris Garrett who handles all 31 scene changes admirably.
The cast includes those recently come to acting and old hats at the game.
Beaumont Fry plays young Petey Bailey; Lucy Hedman is Janie Bailey; Lydia Hedman is Zuzu Bailey; Brian Loughridge is Young George; all are in the Youth Ensemble as are Madeline Fry; Aisha Spencer; Abby Webster; and Cecilia Lewis, who is also the Lead Caroler. They all do their jobs well and fill in as carolers during some of the scene changes.
TréVon Garcia triples in brass as Joe, a Toll-taker and Charlie. Christine Osness does the same as Mrs. Hatch, Mrs. Davis; Jordan Talbot is Tilly. Brynn Garrett is Mrs. Thompson and a bank teller; and Martin Goldsmith is Martine – again, a job well done by all.
Brandon Tautfest plays Harry Bailey, Sam Wainwright and Nick. Tautest is at his “hee-haw” best as Sam and quite vocal as Nick. Steve Lien is Bert and Mr. Welch. Paul Parker is Ernie and others. He is a concerned friend as Ernie. Jameil Jackson is Eustace and adds a spark of comedy to his role of the Bailey Savings and Loan employee. Allyson Jacobs-Lake is Violet Bick; Jacobs-Lake does a good job as the wayward girl who finds her way with holiday spirit.
Andrew Fry is the Superintendent (in Heaven) and the tax man Carter. As the Heavenly messenger, Fry speaks clearly and meaningfully, however he speaks directly to the audience, instead of to his trainee.
Gary E. Spees is the trainee Clarence. Spees gets his wings with this job. He is quite good as the sometimes bumbling would-be Angel First Class.
Leigh Duncan turns in a fine performance as Ma Bailey, the understanding, loving mother who becomes a disillusioned old woman when George encounters her after he never was.
Curtis Beech is Pop Bailey and the sheriff, also Randy. Beech is the perfect head of the Bailey family, even though the part is small, he is memorable in it.
Doug Phillip is Mr. Gower, Dr. Campbell and in the Ensemble. Philip excels as Mr. Gower, the troubled pharmacist who George saves from a fatal error.
George McClure is Uncle Billy, the Building and Loan officer with lapsed memory who causes all of George’s problems. McClure plays Uncle Billy as the happy-go-lucky guy Billy is, but easily changes to the man frightened for his freedom; nice job.
Dan Lysne is George Bailey. Lysne does well with the role but at times he overacts and under-reacts to the immediate situations so that his internal turmoil is not evident.
Kirsten Deane is Mary Bailey. Deane is a goodly wife. She is happy when her husband is and she tries to make him happy when he isn’t, however, she is always understanding. Deane does good work in the part.
Tom Birkeland is the dominating Mr. Potter. And Birkeland dominates the play in the part. He turns in an excellent job of the hateful old man, one of the American Film Institute’s 100 greatest villains. It’s been a long time since Birkeland has graced Tacoma’s boards with his talents; it’s nice to have him back.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” continues at Tacoma Little Theatre at 210 North I Street through December 22 at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays with 2 p.m. matinees Sundays.
For more information or to make reservations call the theatre at (253) 272-2281 or go online to www.tacomalittletheatre.com.
How many times have you seen “It’s a Wonderful Life?” No matter – there’s always room for one more – and this time – it’s live!