Its A Wonderful Life

December 4, 2011 by staff 

Its A Wonderful Life, Stage adaptations of films have always confused me. I understand why one would turn a play into a film, so people can pop in the DVD and watch it whenever they want, but going the opposite way — especially with a classic — seems risky.

There’s always the chance that what you’ll end up with is a lukewarm version of the original that spurs a constant running comparison with the film in the audience members’ heads.

Disappointingly, and despite some great acting, that is exactly what you get with James W. Rogers’ stage adaptation of It’s a Wonderful Life, presented by The Footlight Players. The play is in two acts, and is a condensed version of the movie, leaving out or shortening several scenes along the way.

 For those of you who are rusty on the plot, or haven’t seen the film (sacrilege!), the gist is this: On Christmas Eve, George Bailey is on the verge of suicide due to impending bankruptcy. His guardian angel is sent down to help him, and goes over George’s life, showing him how he has affected those around him and what it would be like if he had never been born. George realizes that he has actually had “a wonderful life,” and rushes home to find that his friends and family have come bearing enough donations to save his Building and Loan business.

It’s a beautiful story — in fact, the American Film Institute named It’s a Wonderful Life number one on their list of America’s Most Inspiring Movies, right above To Kill a Mockingbird. All this is to say that, as one of those people who puts in the movie every Christmas Eve and gets all weepy at the end as George’s town rallies around him, I went in to the Footlight Players’ gorgeous Queen Street theater with some trepidation over how this was going to measure up.

First, and importantly, the acting was very good. Deborah Culbreth as Mary, George’s wife, was sweet, feminine, and maternal, whether she was singing “Buffalo Gals” with her husband-to-be or gently comforting her children after George, distraught, erupts at them over nothing. Gary Ludlum as George Bailey had all the earnestness and compassion of his film predecessor, Jimmy Stewart, and proved that he could handle the vast emotional range that George travels during the course of the story: from happy-go-lucky, to utterly despairing, to deeply grateful.

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