Jason Meenach is not allowed to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” this holiday season, or at least not until Dec. 18.
The story will be a huge part of the actor and Tates Creek High School drama teacher’s life for the next three weeks as he plays the leading character George Bailey in The Woodford Theatre’s stage version of the iconic 1946 Frank Capra movie.
Bailey, who becomes suicidal on Christmas Eve after a financial crisis threatens his family business and is helped by an angel trying to earn his wings, was played in the movie by screen legend Jimmy Stewart.
There are many Christmas stories that are told over and over again. But most roles in, say, “A Christmas Carol” or “The Nutcracker” aren’t as closely identified with one performance the way George Bailey is (though Kermit the Frog’s Bob Cratchit in “The Muppets Christmas Carol” is a performance every actor should aspire to).
“When you have material that is so connected to an icon like Jimmy Stewart, if you try to imitate or do exactly what Jimmy Stewart did, you’re setting yourself up for a comparison that’s not fair or realistic to anybody,” Meenach says. “So rather than do that, I researched Jimmy Stewart and researched the story in other ways, but without looking directly at what he did.
“What I hope is that when people come see the show, they won’t see someone trying to be Jimmy Stewart. I think I have something from my personal story that I can bring into George that are similar to who Jimmy Stewart was as a person. I’m letting that drive my interpretation of the character.”
I was going through Versailles recently and thinking, it wouldn’t be out of place if you saw a sign that said ‘Bedford Falls.’
Jason Meenach, actor playing George Bailey in Woodford Theatre’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’
Meenach says he has relatives who hold “It’s a Wonderful Life” as their favorite movie — not just their favorite holiday flick — but he has never indulged it as deeply. But working on the show have given him a strong sense of why the story and his character has endured.
“He is selfless,” Meenach says of Bailey. “He puts his customers before himself, his family above himself. He has spent his life putting others before himself.”
It makes Meenach think of his grandparents, Joe and June McCarty of Ashland, who ran a store called McCarty’s Market from 1975 until 1994.
“I remember so distinctly how my grandfather and my grandmother would interact with their customers — the jokes that they would tell and the stories they would exchange,” Meenach says. “I saw people who would come in and couldn’t afford to buy what they were wanting to get, but my grandparents would treat them the same way they would treat anyone else who came in the store. That is something I have been thinking a lot about.”
The dynamics of small-town America are a key to the show, says Meenach, who has lived in Lexington most of his life but says he appreciates the closer-knit communities and a ties of smaller towns, like Ashland or Versailles, where this play is being produced.
I think this play resonates with the kind of healing messages I pray as a country we heed.
Jason Meenach, actor
“I was going through Versailles recently and thinking, it wouldn’t be out of place if you saw a sign that said ‘Bedford Falls,’” Meenach says, referring to the story’s fictional setting.
The “Wonderful Life” story — whether on stage or screen — comes at a good time, the actor said, following a divisive election and consternation about what the future holds.
“This is a story that is ultimately about loving people and caring for people unconditionally, it’s about having a service-first mentality — to serve people — and I think this play resonates with the kind of healing messages I pray as a country we heed,” Meenach says.
Once the production wraps, it will be the zenith of the holiday season with the movie readily available, including a 7 p.m. NBC showing on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24.
“At some point when the dust settles and I’ve had time to rest, I will watch it again,” Meenach says. “I may wait and give myself a little bit of time before I do, maybe even Christmas of 2017.”
If you go
‘It’s a Wonderful Life’
What: The Woodford Theatre’s production of James W. Rodgers adaptation of the 1946 Frank Capra movie
When: 8 p.m. Dec. 2, 3, 9, 10, 15, 16, 17; 2 p.m. Dec. 4, 11, 18
Where: Falling Springs Arts & Recreation Center, 275 Beasley Drive, Versailles