McClellan paces a classic at HopewellSFlb

By Eric McCrea


“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a beloved Christmas tradition, and the Hopewell Theatre has brought a musical version to stage.

James McClellan plays the lead role of George Bailey, the small-town banker who is having the worst day of his life.

The plot is well known. Before George can do anything drastic, Angel Second Class Clarence (Terry Shears) intervenes, and the two reflect on the major moments in George’s past, revisiting the decisions that brought him to this point.

Clarence seems to be making no headway when he gets the idea to show his last-chance-for-wings protege what the town of Bedford Falls would have been like without George Bailey.

McClellan was a perfect fit in the iconic role. Vocally, he led the pack and made it look easy. He was a natural at playing the standup town hero and powerfully expressive as the man pushed to the edge.

Jeanine Rees played the plucky Mary Bailey. She sang well in her duets with McClellan and had no difficulty making the transition from teenager to wholesome mother and devoted wife.

Shears was a hoot as Clarence. He represented hope by revealing it in George. Shears had a presence that made the audience eager to hear bells ring.

Rick Haldi was appropriately despicable as Mr. Potter. The gruff Hopewell fixture was a great choice as the devilish, greed-driven villain and symbol of corruption.

Tom Hathhorn delivered a capable Billy Bailey, uncle of George. He provided the perfect amount of sympathetic conflict and drove the story forward.

Stephen Kountz made a good showing as Harry Bailey, the brother who makes it out. Though not a big role, Kountz made it memorable.

Many distinct, smaller roles were packed with talent, including Tracie Balentine as Ma Bailey, Kaleb McFarland as Bert, Regina Rees as Aunt Tilly and Selena Phillips as Violet.

A skilled ensemble, including some great youth actors, filled the show and added lots of small-town warmth.

The buildup to the big ending takes some time, and the addition of songs doesn’t help the pace, but once that moment arrives, the cast makes it fantastic.

A bare set worked well for the show and made the space feel larger.

“It’s A Wonderful Life” will be performed today and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. For reservations, call 330-746-5455.

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