It’s a Wonderful Life appears to reach new heights of success each time it’s remade. In the film that inspired the “It’s a Wonderful Life” musical, timeless features like the Marietta Train Station have been preserved and improved. The faces and hair of multiple different eras have been captured, despite changed hairstyles, makeup and timeless touches like mustard-yellow suits. (Some may recall, if they’re from the Midwest, that all the look-alike costumes were available in old station stores.) One noticeable alteration that has made the play’s story fresh is the character of George Bailey, who is played by Martin Short instead of James Stewart. A lot has changed since the story’s inception on Broadway, but the audience has stayed the same. It’s a Wonderful Life has played to sold-out houses since Thanksgiving, and The Kingsmill is showing it again this year.
REVIEW: ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ a touching, very traditional stage version with an occasional head-scratcher (Review)
Mary Agnes Donoghue’s actors combine talent with boundless enthusiasm as they perform the well-known script. Loved ones, family and classmates play various roles, but three are featured extensively: One (Randy Pate) is an actor, who changes back and forth between roles; another (Ricardo Santos), is a thoughtful teenager in George’s life; and the third (Stephen Lawrence), the younger cousin of George and Mary Cooper (Celia Hiller) in Baltimore. Interestingly, this same group performed together in last year’s production of It’s a Wonderful Life at Arena Stage.
In a small, charming arrangement this year, every one of the six seats onstage is a child. For the most part, when the children are in the audience, their parents are positioned near the set, allowing this segment to air. We saw one child wait a couple of feet away from the set for the lights to dim, and it was a completely new experience watching a child live so close to our theater.
The characters in It’s a Wonderful Life are alive and well, though the audiences are primed to laugh when the cuddly Mr. Potter comes around the corner. They’re not the same people they were in the film, but the reactions are just as heartfelt. A huge question remains for many who see the theater production: What do George and Mary think of the story and the people she’s helped? Their answer is always simple and sweet.
Reach D. Anthony Botkin at (703) 385-3541 or at [email protected]