by Terrance Mc Arthur
It started as a Christmas card/pamphlet, a story sent to 200 friends by Philip Van Doren Stern. Frank Capra turned it into a 1946 movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart. The film wasn’t a hit at the box office, but it became a hit on TV and video. The Lux Radio Theatre broadcast an hour-long version of the movie in 1947, and a TV film was made of a benefit performance in 1999. An expanded (adding more of the film scenes and dialogue) script is now Merry Christmas, George Bailey, a CenterStage Clovis Community Theatre production at the theatre in the Clovis Veterans Memorial District Auditorium through December 11.
The stage is transformed into a radio studio with microphones, announcers, actors sitting around in 1940’s attire, and sound effects equipment, and the theatre is filled with a studio audience watching a broadcast of the radio adaptation of a recent film. There are even live commercials for sponsors of the CenterStage show (“See the USA In your Chevrolet…”).
Chances are, you’re familiar with the story. George Bailey (Mason Lamb) is ready to commit suicide, convinced that his life is one of failure, thwarted dreams, and disappointment. The prayers of family and friends cause Heaven to send an apprentice angel, Clarence (Jeff Myers), eager to earn his wings, to be George’s guardian angel. He grants the man his wish, and shows him what the world would be like if he had never been born, a vision, which shows him that his life had made a difference for good.
Twenty-two people on the stage playing nearly 60 roles in the production. It’s amazing!
George Bailey is the center of the story, and Mason Lamb is a solid center. He’s possessed of a strong voice, has that hesitation sound we associate with an excited Jimmy Stewart, and he knows how to wear a hat. We follow him into the depths of his soul, and rejoice when he emerges a stronger, whole person.Lydia Bustos is Mary, George’s love, wife, and mother of his four children. She is gentle, intelligent, loyal, and witty. The affection comes through, even if George and Mary are at different microphones.
Mr. Potter, the malignant miser of Bedford Falls, who causes George’s crisis of confidence, is the character people love to hate, and Brett Hedrick does not disappoint. He’s silver-tongued, he’s devious—and he also plays one of the senior angels who sends Clarence on his rescue mission to Earth.
George’s Uncle Billy and Clarence are both bumbling characters, but Jeff Myers manages to bring out the differences in each. His interpretation of Billy is forgetful, worried, and fearful, while Clarence has a naïve simplicity that brims with optimism.
Elizabeth Streckel delivers a smooth narration, Jeremy Salas portrays characters of a number of ages, and Glenda Jackson has some wonderful chances to shine (and a great hat). Martin Martinez and Mark Macpherson are the stalwart Bert and Ernie (Yes, that’s where Sesame Street got the names of those Muppets), and Andrew Krikorian is a memorable crying child.
Director Darren Tharp gives the story a chance to unfold in its own way, and Ginger Kay Lewis-Reed’s costumes echo the era . . . and have great hats. Merry Christmas, George Bailey will bring back fond memories of the film and story, and it may give you new memories to cherish.
The Clovis Veterans Memorial District is at 808 4th St., Clovis, CA. tickets can be purchased at the door or online.
If you love local theatre, be sure to check out Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors. You can find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, and also on podbean.
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