If you need a dose of old-fashioned, non-ironic, wholesome hope — and who doesn’t these days? — get thee to The Woodford Theatre’s holiday-timed production of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Based on the iconic Frank Capra film that is an annual holiday viewing ritual for many fans, the staged version offers the familiar warmth of the film’s magic while tailoring the material to the stage.
It doesn’t hurt that the play enjoys the rarity of a playwright-director at the helm. Kentucky playwright James Rodgers directs his own adaptation with an eye toward sustaining classical elements of the show while cultivating opportunities for the cast to discover new opportunities and fresh moments in the show.
Evender Hodges Sanders, for instance, brings a refreshing vivacity and sparkle to her role as Mary that is a departure from Donna Reed’s more muted good-girl-next-door vibe.
And Jason Meenach, in the lead role as George Bailey, has perhaps the most difficult task of getting the audience to erase the sound of Jimmy Stewart’s drawl from their minds and replace it with the lilt of a Kentucky voice. Meenach lets a slight rural accent slip into his delivery of Bailey’s lines, and the effect calls attention to Bailey’s small-town rural identity more effectively that Stewart’s stylized pronunciation. Meenach also captures a spirit of wistfulness and hope that is more palpable than Stewart’s, which makes his burdened emotional plight on the edge of an icy bridge all the more dramatic.
Bright performances by Tom Johnson as Uncle Billy, Virgil M. Covington Jr. as the angel Clarence Odbody, and Ethan Weig as Tommy Bailey are among the many supporting performances that add charm to this classic production.
Purists will immediately note Rodgers’ dramatic change to the movie’s structure. In the stage version, we begin at the end, with George about to jump from the bridge. Then, with a narrator guiding the audience through transitions with songs or words, the play pieces together, in a series of carefully spliced flashbacks, how George ended up on the bridge.
This structure change is a solid example of Rodgers’ understanding of the needs of the stage. Opening with a potential suicide immediately heightens the stakes and draws the audience into a mystery. The trade-off is that George’s increasing misfortune doesn’t have the same gut-punching crescendo effect — or should I say decrescendo — as it does in the film.
Still, it is a worthy trade-off, and the tale of George’s plight is cleverly woven together in flashback scenes that quickly clip along.
Rodgers’ adaptations for the stage offer all of the emotional rewards of the film with the more personal connection of live theater. The spirit of the show — that of community and helping others and sacrifice — is a stirring and uplifting holiday message that we would all do well to hear.
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. 15, 16, 17; 2 p.m. Dec. 18
Where: Falling Springs Arts & Recreation Center, 275 Beasley Drive, Versailles