Rather than stay at home and worry about the house flooding, we saw It's a Wonderful Life last night, at Town Hall Theatre in Lafayette. (Yes, Lafayette - it's really not that far, and definitely worth the drive).
If you've ever seen the Frank Capra film, you know the story... George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, learns (through his guardian angel) how much he means to people, and what a difference his life has made to his family and friends.
'Teacher says, every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.' To a cynic like me, that line is just so sickeningly sweet... The only reason I even considered seeing the show was because it was at Town Hall Theatre, and they are putting out some really nice productions these days. Community theatre, yes-but alot of high-quality acting and surrounding craft, raising the shows to a more professional level. I went hoping for the best (because of Town Hall), but expecting to be underwhelmed (the sugary-sweet version of the sugary-sweet film).
I was very pleasantly surprised. This is great theatre on a tight budget. There weren't alot of props, actors moved scenery in between scenes (rather than stagecrew), and some roles were doublecast. Serious kudos go to Martin Flynn, for his minimalist set. It was sparse, but not lacking. I think the direction, by Lisa Anne Porter, for the most part was spot on; there wasn't alot of wondering 'why the heck was that scene in there?' The absence of that question is evidenced by a good director - she knows what to keep 'in' for the story to move forward, and what to 'take out' for the audience's sanity!
Of course, to do this show justice, you have to have an incredible 'George Bailey' and Dan Saski did not disappoint. They are big shoes to fill, since everyone in the audience has probably seen the film with Jimmy Stewart at least 10 times! Mr. Saski was 'just enough' Jimmy Stewart to make us feel at home, but made the role his own... and the relationship he built with the angel Clarence (Tom Flynn) and his wife Mary (Lauren Rossi) was really beautiful and realistic.
Special props go to Caitlin Evenson and Adrienne Krug, two women in the show that are not doublecast, but TRIPLE cast - both actors do an outstanding job in their respective, major, parts.
By the time we heard that last jingle bell ring and 'another angel' earn his wings, even this cynic had to wipe away a tear. I will not be surprised to see many names from this show nominated at the next Shellie Awards!
You know, in theatre, during the holidays, the 'big ticket show' to do is A Christmas Carol. You'll see many theatres, even in the Bay Area, have their traditional performance of (some form of) the Scrooge story. I'm so glad Town Hall decided to go for something different with It's a Wonderful Life - they might just have a wonderful tradition on their hands. It's running until December 16th - may everyone in the East Bay drive over to Lafayette to see it!