Community theater out to prove 'It's a Wonderful Life' after all

Bells will be ringing, children will be singing and an angel will get its wings.

It's the time of year for people to revisit the classic holiday film "It's a Wonderful Life."

But there's no need to surf the channels or run to the video store in search of the beloved favorite. The Lawrence Community Theatre will provide the entertainment. It just might be a little different than you remember it.

Beginning Friday, the theater will present a musical retelling of the 1946 Frank Capra film. Although three musical treatments of the film exist, this one was selected by the theater's play reading committee because of the music.

"This particular version, the music is written by Sheldon Harnick who did 'Fiddler on the Roof,' and the music is absolutely mesmerizing," says director Jeanne Chinn.

The musical stage version retains much the same plot as the film. The addition of songs to the action allows the audience to experience more emotion, Chinn says.

"The nice thing about the music is it gives you more of an uplift and more of the drama," she says. "The movie is such a downer until the end, and the music has nice loving moments that bring you up even more."

Chinn also has tried to showcase some of the subtleties not captured on film.

"There are some parts that are written that are delightfully funny if you look for the humor in them," she says. "I have looked for humor wherever I can because I think laughter just heals the heart."

photo

Diane Guthrie/Journal-World Photo

From left, Chris Cook as Clarence the Angel, Russ Berland as George Bailey and Doug Wasson as Mr. Potter pose for a photo during a rehearsal for the Lawrence Community Theatre's upcoming production of "It's a Wonderful Life." Director Jeanne Chinn said of the show, "This is a gift of love from our cast to the Lawrence community."

The 32-member cast has been hard at work for six weeks preparing the show. In addition to the principle players, the production also features a children's chorus.

"I want the children to be involved because it is Christmas and from a family standpoint, I want families to be together," Chinn says. "That is important to me."

Playing the villainous Mr. Potter is Doug Wasson. A longtime fan of the film, he was unaware that a musical version existed. Wasson immediately saw the similarities and differences between the film and musical.

"In the film, Potter is in a wheel chair," he notes. "There are changes and little twists in the story, but it does not change the whole idea of the story."

Besides adjusting to the minor differences, Wasson also took the opportunity to further develop the corrupt Mr. Potter.

"I have tried to give Potter a little more dimension, a little more of a sense of humor," he says.

Musical theater veteran Sarah Young plays Mary Bailey, wife to main character George. Young hopes to add more depth to the demure character played in the film version by actress Donna Reed.

"Mary is a hard character because it is easy not to give her any dimension because she looks like a nice supportive wife, and she needs to be that," she says. "But I hope we are seeing some differences, such as reluctance and anger, as well as the joy and supportive nature that she is supposed to have."

The musical retelling of the holiday staple still leaves audiences with the same message as its predecessor.

"It has a wonderful message," Wasson says. "It is a story about redemption and salvation."

Besides filling the audience with joy and hope, Chinn also is offering the show as an early gift for the audiences.

"This is a gift of love from our cast to the Lawrence community," she says. "They (the cast) have invested their time and their hearts and souls. I hope the audience will feel that."

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