The legendary classic story of nice guy George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, comes to life on stage at Arts Collective at Howard Community College (AC) this holiday season. Very much like his father, George Bailey (Noah Bird), never seems to get a break. Kind and giving, he constantly sacrifices his own dreams for the sake of others. On Christmas Eve, where the show opens, George has hit rock bottom and essentially has given up. Teetering on the edge of a bridge and life, anger, despair, and thoughts of suicide brings about the intervention of his guardian angel.
It’s a Wonderful Life the stage play is by James W. Rodgers, based on the film by Frank Capra, and the short story The Greatest Gift was written by Philip Van Doren Stern. The Arts Collective’s Executive Producer is Valerie Lash with Susan G. Kramer as the Producing Artist Director. This production is directed by Gareth Kelly and Anthony Scimonelli.
Bird is outstanding as George Bailey, as he display a wide range of emotions – from happy-go-lucky with Mary Hatch (Rachel Bailey), down on his luck with Uncle Billy (William Stanley III), and truly skeptical with Clara (Emma K. McDonnell). His lanky stature and body language fits right in with his 3-piece suit, coat, and hat – which perfectly reflect the time period.
Noah Bird shares good chemistry with his love interest, Mary, even when she is not of any interest to him. The love scene where George visits Mary upon her return from college is charming. As George bumbles his way onto the porch, Mary is awaiting a phone call from Sam Wainwright (Hudson Mohler). This is a cleverly staged scene, where Mary and George are stage right, Mary’s nosey mother (Kathryn Marshall) is positioned in one of the upper windows, and over-zealous businessman, Sam in a lower window. This is the tense moment where George, “does not want in on the ground floor.” As he expresses his anger in not wanting marriage, the mood shifts again and George and Mary’s first kiss is filled with great passion.
Bailey’s Mary is a burst of springtime when she steps onto the stage. She is the sweet optimist that sees the good in all their hard work. The bonus with this actress is her singing voice the gives a beautiful rendition of “Ava Maria.” On the opposite end of the spectrum is Violet Peterson (Meghan Abdo), the single, ambitious gal who always flirts with George. Donning some lovely lace dresses adds to her characters out-going behavior.
Another surprise is Emma K. McDonnell as Clara Odbody – yes, Clara. In this production George’s angel is a gal, that is very exuberant and a very likable. She is smart and not such a goof-ball like Clarence is in the movie. Her gestures are a bit exaggerated and that is what works with this character as she tries to get George to realize he does matter, and to embrace life again. Her costume is made up of layers that include a full length coat, fingerless gloves, and a bowler hat with red accents.
Gary Grabau’s Henry F. Potter is just as mean and grouchy as can be. A true villain, he is nemesis to George and his father, delivering his lines with grit and contempt in his voice. Wheelchair bound, he is pushed around by his body guard (Adam Czarnecki) and his secretary (Abigail Pervaiz), but he is the one that does the pushing that drives people away, making them feel worthless.
Bert (Brandon W. Love) and Ernie (Scott Lichtor) are the comic relief of the show. Like George, they are happy-go-lucky in Bedford Falls. However, in Pottersville, along with Mr. Martini (Diego Esmolo) they are drunkards, stagger around on the stage, as Clara shows George his life as if he had never been born.
Harry Bailey (Josh Huff-Edsall), George’s hero brother, was played in the same vain as Sam Wainwright. Go-getters from an early age, they liked George, even respected him but they also seemed to take advantage of him while they pursue and get what they wanted out of life. Mother Bailey (Terri Laurino) on the other hand was a bit on the sassy side and always cheering for her son George. She knew the kind of man she raised and manages to nudge him in the right direction in what matters – love.
Mr. Gower (Bruce Leipold) and Young George (Graham Rifkin) share the drug store scene where Mr. Gower inadvertently sends George to deliver a poisonous medication. Leipold’s character is fraught with anger but it is George’s compassionate nature that shifts the situation. Leipold and Rifkin really deliver in this scene the emotions not only related to what happened with the medication but the news that Mr. Gower’s son had died.
It’s A Wonderful Life would not be complete with the support of the following roles and cast members who portrayed Aunt Tilly (Ilene Chalmers), Miss Andrews (T. Naomi Muwowo), Mrs. Thompson (Catherine Milligan), Mrs. Martini (Ivonne Aparicio), Mr. Welch (Shawn Fournier) and Miss Carter (Taylor Purnell). Their talents support ensemble scenes such as George and Mary’s wedding, the run on the bank, Carolers, and George’s house at Christmas. George and Mary’s children, Peter (Bennett Horvath), Tommy (Nicholas Dimitriades), Zuzu (Madeleine McComb), and Janie (Madeleine Kelly) and are just adorable and are full of excitement when George returns home in the Christmas scene.
The set by designer Jeff Harrison and lighting by Lynn Joslin is ingenious. Comprised of three walls, it is indicative of an Advent calendar. Sponge painted black and white to give it a soft gray tone, the set is also a series of doors, windows, and retractable stairs. Adding to the technical side of the show is a combination of projections and gobos that cast images onto the set. Credit for digital scenography goes to Riki Kim while Kevin Hill is responsible for the sound design which includes songs of the era. The efforts of the design team are apparent as the set, lighting, and sound work together to set the upbeat, down-trodden, and then hopeful moods.
Costuming by Shannon Maddox is relatable to the late 1920s. The older woman wear chemise dresses with long hem-lines and plain bodices. Mary’s costuming matures throughout the show as she wears beaded dresses with fuller skirts and petticoats in the beginning; by the end of the show, she is wearing this stunning long black skirt, velvet top and a shiny Christmas corsage. The men wear trousers, long sleeve shirts and sweater vest. A few of the male characters also sport a suit jacket. The festive carolers are decorated in red and green holiday outfits.
It’s a Wonderful Life if full of quotable quote, including the familiar message that, “Each man’s life touches so many other lives, and when he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole.”
Arts Collective @ HCC’s It’s a Wonderful Life is simply a stunningly wonderful production due to the cohesive efforts by the cast and crew at delivering top-notch performances, direction, and design while managing seamless set changes, that required some quick maneuvering.
AC’s It’s a Wonderful Life is definitely the show to see during this holiday season. It’s a brilliant production to be enjoyed by every member of the family!
Running Time: Approximately two hours, includes one 15-minute intermission.
Arts Collective’s production of It’s A Wonderful Life plays through December 14, 2014 at Howard Community College performing at the Horowitz Center’s Smith Theatre – 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, in Columbia, MD. For tickets, call (443) 518-1500, or purchase them online.
Recommended for audiences 12 years of age and up.
Arts Collective at Howard Community College Presents ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ December 4 – 14th by Susan G. Kramer.
Arts Collective @ HCC’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ Interviews Part 1: ‘Paths Intersect Again After 20 Years’: Co-Directors Gareth Kelly and Anthony Scimonelli.
Arts Collective @ HCC’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ Interviews Part 2: A Peek at the Multi-Generational Cast of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’