‘It’s a Wonderful Life’: A present ready to open
STONEHAM – In this Christmas/holiday season, theater companies that are presenting holiday classics are searching for new ways to reinvigorate them and give them new meaning
Enter the Greater Boston Stage Company’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” a stage version of the 1946 film beloved by generations.
GBSC Artistic director Weylin Symes has skillfully adapted the Frank Capra screenplay for the stage, keeping the essence of the piece and tweaking some parts of the story.
One of his tweaks that works is changing the villain of the piece – the banker Mr. Potter – into Mrs. Potter, played by Margaret Ann Brady, who proves a woman can be just as mean, nasty and conniving as a man (just kidding, ladies!).
The result is a bright, fresh new look at a timeless classic.
Co=directors Tyler Rosati and Tonasia Jones have assembled a diverse, versatile and talented cast able to morph quickly from character to character.
Stewart Evan Smith, part of a a fine ensemble in Speakeasy Stage’s recent “Between Riverside and Crazy,” oozes righteousness and warmth as the passionate, principled George Bailey, head of the Bailey Building and Loan. He is at his best when be is standing up to the villainous Mrs. Potter in trying to save the homes of those lucky enough to escape her tenements. Marge Dunn is a coquettish, warm, loving Mary Bailey.
George’s dreams of college and a career far away from Bedford Falls are first delayed, then dashed as his father’s death and subsequent events all conspire to keep him chained to his desk at the building and loan.
Bob Mussett has amassed a a passel of fine performances around Greater Boston stages and here he is fine as Uncle Billy, George’s sidekick at the Building and Loan whose mistake plunges George into the depths of despair. Jenna Lee Scott is Cousin Tilly, another Building and Loan mainstay.
Gifted comic actor William Gardiner has been a part of many of the former Stoneham Theatre’s holiday productions, including “Miracle on 34th Street” and “The Nutcracker” and he reprises his role as Clarence, the angel still seeking his wings who is sent down from heaven to prevent George from killing himself, instead allowing him to see what life would be in Bedford Falls without him.
There is a very strong corps of actors who almost run themselves ragged filling out the many other parts of the Bedford Falls universe, including Francis Xavier Norton as Harry; Jeff Marcus as Bert and Sam Wainwright, George’s wealthy friend who rides to the rescue; Elainy Mata as residents Nick and Ernie; Bryan Miner as Martini; David Jiles Jr. as Mr. Gower, the druggist; and Laura Chowderhill as Violet, who carried a torch for George, and Harry Bailey’s bride Ruth.
At a recent performance some of the younger actors early in the show were tending to rush their lines a bit, making them hard to hear, a sure sign of nerves. They should settle down as the run goes along. The younger members of the cast include Linus Latta Giuliana, Cate Galante, Jackson Huughes-Page, Melydia McCall, and Fiona Simeqi.
Brittany Aiken provides lively musical accompaniment and supervision and vocal arrangements. The directors use some clever stagecraft on the scenes that are hardest to portray, such as George and Mary’s fall into the school pool.
Again, Symes’ adaptation is fast-paced, to the point, without sacrificing any of the central themes or characters.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” remains a chestnut that you’re always happy to roast, a present it’s always fun to open, and a great reason to sit back and enjoy two hours of holiday entertainment.
The Greater Boston Stage Company production of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Adapted from Frank Capra’s original screenplay by Weylin Symes. Directed by Tonasia Jones and Tyler Rosati. Scenic design by Sarah Rozene. Costume design by Chelsea Kerl. Lighting design by. Kayleigha Zawacki. Through Dec. 23. greaterbostonstage.org.