By Stephanie Ottey
Everyone agrees that there’s something special about Frank Capra’s famous film “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Based on the short story “The Greatest Gift,” the film is a Christmastime staple. To start this holiday season right, Trumbull New Theater is bringing George Bailey and all of his friends to the stage in a theatrical adaptation that’s every bit as heartwarming as the film.
The stage play by James W. Rodgers is a respectable representation of the film. George receives devastating news and is bent on killing himself when his guardian angel arrives to show him what the world would have been like had George Bailey never been born, and the classic plot plays out.
Of course, the movie transitions from scene to scene in a way that no stage production could, so the play is a bit shorter, and certain scenes are narrated rather than illustrated. Under Terri Gilbert’s direction, this play is just as charming as the movie.
The set-design team does what it can to create multiple settings on the single-unit stage by using hidden doors and a lighting design that effectively guides focus. The entire stage is painted in gray-scale, as are the costumes, in a nod to the black-and-white film. There are a few long scene changes in Act 2 that give viewers just enough time fall back to reality, but for the most part, the changes are smooth and unnoticed.
This show also boasts an impressively polished ensemble of actors. Though not every cast member is granted a line of dialogue, each person in the large cast is fully committed to creating a realistic physical picture of his or her character. It’s clear that great time and care was taken to style each actor in the show.
There were some stand-out players on opening night, as well.
JoAnn Winterbauer stands out as a warm and dedicated Mother Bailey.
The wicked Mr. Potter is truly unlikeable in the hands of Bill Finley.
Tom Gysegem is a good fit for Clarence. His rich, soothing vocal tone lends itself well to the storytelling guardian angel.
Nicole Bowden creates a Mary that is exactly who we want to see George fall in love with. She remains firm and smart on stage, but Bowden adds a dainty sweetness to the role that is irresistible. When she pairs with George Bailey, they make the perfect All- American family.
The success of this production is largely due to Rob Morris’ heartfelt portrayal of George. Morris skips doing a Jimmy Stewart impression to leave us with an energetic, down-to-earth and truly heroic character. With Morris’s boyish good-looks, the iconic character is ideally captured in his performance.
The cherry on top of all that charm is little Zuzu. If Olivia Gray doesn’t melt your heart as she shares that “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings,” you mustn’t have had one to begin with.
Get in the holiday spirit with “It’s A Wonderful Life” running now through Nov. 18 at Trumbull New Theater. For more information, call 330-652-1103.