Sunday, November 28, 2021

"It's a Wonderful Life" at Lyric Arts

The 1946 film It's a Wonderful Life has become one of the most beloved Christmas* movies of all time. And now you can see it come to life on Lyric Arts' Main Street Stage in lovely downtown Anoka. The adaptation by Doug Rand is very faithful to the movie; it almost plays out scene by scene. It feels a bit long and slow-moving at times (the many scenes that make up someone's life story don't cut together quite as quickly on stage as on film), but the large and talented cast really make these characters their own, while having a lot of fun with accents and these familiar lines. Most importantly, the beautiful and important message that "no one is a failure who has friends," that every person's life is impactful and worthy no matter what their accomplishments or net worth, shines through.

The familiar story begins the same as the movie, with everyone praying for George, who's in some sort of a crisis, and these prayers being answered by an angel named Clarence, who first needs to learn about George's life to date. We see videos of some of his childhood scenes, displayed in intersecting pieces on different parts of the set. The action eventually transitions to live on stage, but videos continue to be used sparingly throughout (e.g., Zuzu's petals). It's a clever way to fit in all of the varied bits of the story, and also nod to the cinematic quality of the movie.

Clarence (Rick Wyman) and George (Raúl Arámbula)
(photo by Molly Weibel) 
We progress through all of the familiar points of George's life, his adventurous spirit that he puts aside to run the family business, his awkward love story with Mary, the crisis at the Building and Loan, the temptations from the evil businessman Potter, and all of the ways George selflessly, if at times begrudgingly, helps people and makes Bedford Falls a better place. Eventually Clarence appears on Earth to a desperate and disbelieving George, and shows him what life would be like for his family, friends, and community if he'd never been born. George learns this lesson fast, and realizes just what a wonderful life he really has.

Raúl Arámbula and Eva Gemlo recreating
the iconic scene (photo by Molly Weibel)
Rather than do a Jimmy Stewart impression, Raúl Arámbula brings his own unique spin to the role of George, as he charmingly bumbles his way through life. He portrays the full range of emotion from joyful elation, to determination, to utter desolation. Eva Gemlo is a great match as Mary, a loving and supportive partner. Rick Wyman is amusing as the well-meaning angel trying to earn his wings. The rest of the cast plays multiple roles, often changing characters within one scene, to make the world of Bedford Falls seem even larger. Highlights include Kayli McIntyre as Violet et al, and Grant Hooyer and Doni Marinos as the original Bert and Ernie, and also the hee-hawing Sam and war hero brother Harry, respectively.

The set consists of white-washed wooden structures - platforms, stairs, and silhouettes of houses, upon which the pre-recorded scenes, as well as images for the various locations, are displayed. The cast is dressed in period costumes that aren't flashy, but reflect small town depression era life. (Scenic design by Greg Vanselow, costume design by Rebecca Bernstein.)

See It's a Wonderful Life, the classic movie come to life on stage, through December 19.

*Click here to read about all of the holiday shows I've seen this year.