Tuesday, November 23, 2010

It's a Wonderful Life

What would Christmas be without Bing Crosby singing 'White Christmas?'

What would Christmas be without Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol,' whether Scrooge is an actor, a cartoon character, an animal, or a muppet?

And what would Christmas be without 'It's a Wonderful Life,' the classic film that has played for decades on televisions across this country?

To celebrate the Winters Community Theater's 30th season, the group is presenting the staged version of the classic tale, directed by Anita Ahuja.

It's the perfect community theater vehicle, with lots of small roles for anybody who has a desire to try his or her hand at acting - and for company regulars to give the solid performances we have come to expect from them.

What better way to begin the holiday season?

'It's a Wonderful Life' is based on the story 'The Greatest Gift,' written by Phillip Van Doren Stern in 1943. The story was inspired by a dream. Unable to find a publisher, Stern printed 200 copies of his story and sent them to friends in Christmas cards.

One of the copies ended up with RKO Pictures, who purchased the motion picture rights and sold them to Frank Capra's production company.

In 1946, Capra produced the movie, which he named 'It's a Wonderful Life.' Though originally considered a box office flop due to high production costs and stiff competition at the time of its release, the movie was nominated for five Academy Awards and has since been recognized by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 best American films ever made, and placed No. 1 on its list of the most inspirational American films of all time.

Heading the Winters cast of nearly 30 is Trent Beeby, playing good ol' George Bailey, who gave up his dreams of setting the world on fire to stay in town and keep his family's savings and loan from collapse. Beeby gives his usual fine performance. He's likable and dedicated and suffers genuine anguish when driven to the brink of suicide by feeling that his life meant nothing.

Phil Pittman is Clarence Odbody, the angel yet to earn his wings, sent from heaven to get George through the crisis of faith.

Tom Rost earns boos from the audience for his curmudgeonly portrayal of old Mr. Potter, the man determined to bring the savings and loan to its knees. The boos are an indication of how well Rost handles his task! Robert Fischer is sufficiently menacing as Potter's bodyguard.

Michael Barbour does a good job as pharmacist Mr. Gower, whose carelessness would have killed a client were it not for the keen eye of the young George Bailey (Nick McKenna)

Ann Rost gives a solid performance as George's mother and Jesse Akers is the likable, if not quite competent Uncle Billy, whose inattention nearly destroys the savings and loan. Joanie Bryant does a good job as George's wife, though her role seems smaller than the role in the movie. Jason Spyres brings youthful enthusiasm to the role of George's brother, Jason.

The Bailey children are all very cute - Nick McKenna as Pete, Emelia Orosco as Margaret, Allyson Freckman as Elizabeth, Sophia Tolley as ZuZu and Corinne McKenna as Janie.

Annie Griffey stands out from the supporting cast as the bank examiner, Miss Carter. She makes the most of a small role and her voice is a nice addition to the choir that sings Christmas carols during the long set changes.

The costumes by Germaine Hupe, Linda Glick, Viona Hicks and Ann Rost work well and are a good representation of the era.

The program for this show lists multiple members of several families, whether on stage or behind the stage and displays that wonderful thing about community theater.

The audience is often filled with friends of the cast (we sat with co-workers of Mr. Potter, for example). I love the Winters Community Theater for this. Each production is a feel-good experience.

I never leave without a smile on my face because of how much fun everyone is having, both on and off the stage.

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