JC’s Theatre Spotlight – It’s A Wonderful Life

Man … I could have chosen a hundred different quotes from It’s A Wonderful Life, and they all would have roughly the same impact.

At Neptune Theatre’s 2017 Christmas production, I christened the newly renovated Fountain Hall with the tears of about 800 little emotional moments.  The show makes an engrossing evening of theatre for all ages, a perfect family holiday excursion, playing now through New Year’s Eve. 

This is also your first opportunity to take in the refurbished mainstage theatre.  The lobby is gorgeous, the washrooms have been bumped up to the most modern of amenities, and the comfy new seats were a pleasure to plop our bums into for a couple of hours.  The only thing patrons seemed to have difficulty with was the middle aisle, which now only runs from the front row up to about the tenth – the remaining rows contain seats all the way across with the only aisles along the side walls.  This had many people walking up the middle aisle only to realize they had to turn around and take the long way out.  But … we’ll all get used to such things.  Now, back to our regularly scheduled program, It’s A Wonderful Life

In my estimation, the stars of this show are the screenwriters of the original film.  There was no better script than the powerful words written by Frances Goodrish, Albert Hackett, and Frank Capra back in 1946.

For me, there’s no film I’ve seen more often than this one, so I was pleased that the Neptune production (adapted for stage by George Pothitos in his Neptune swan song) is so faithful to the original.  The staging and effects are slick, professional, and the cues are smooth and bond the show together seamlessly.  My only quibble is with the emotional weight of a couple of the performances. 

Chris Zonneville as George Bailey brings an amiability to the lead role that’s reminiscent of Jimmy Stewart, but in certain key scenes didn’t quite connect with the same emotional wallop that Stewart’s performance did.  Take the bar scene in which Stewart, self-admittedly “not a praying man” asks God to show him the way, revealing his raw desperation like no other actor of his era could.  By comparison, Zonneville’s Bailey appeared to be asking the Lord to clear aside a little quiet time to chat on the weekend.  Now, to expect anyone to perform to Stewart’s level would be unfair, and some of that scene’s most poignant lines seemed to be cut from the Neptune script, but still that moment was nearly lost among the other activity in the bar – as opposed to being an emotional high point in the film. 

Similarly, Steve Baker as Mr. Potter lacks the consistent severity that Lionel Barrymore brought to his prickishness in the film.  Again … Mr. Barrymore set a pretty high bar.  And neither I nor the rest of the audience seemed to enjoy the play a whole lot less because of these issues.  Highlights included the inspired performance of Randy Hughson as Clarence, George’s Guardian Angel, who added his own gruff but loveable take as an Angel, Second Class, finally on the verge of earning his wings.  His performance earned Hughson the loudest ovation of the evening.  But Sheldon Davis as Uncle Billy, Sarah English as Mary, and Roland Piers as Young George were also terrific in their roles.  As were the three Bailey kids – Billie, Donovan, and Justine Colan, in their first big stage roles, hitting their cues solidly every time.

Earlier this week, the C100 Morning Show welcomed Chris Zonneville and Randy Hughson to the studio to chat about It’s A Wonderful Life.