Everyone has a favorite holiday movie. There are a lot of great choices; but if you took a poll, it’s a fair bet that the most popular of all would prove to be Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. Although it didn’t recoup its production costs upon its initial theatrical release, and the only Oscar that it won was for Technical Achievement (for coming up with a less noisy alternative to cornflakes to simulate snow onscreen), it went on to become one of Hollywood’s best-loved products ever. It’s sort of the mid-20th-century, middle-American version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: a tale of redemption in which supernatural agents lead the protagonist to review and reconsider the profound impacts on other people of the choices that he has made in his life.
Some regard the 1946 film’s depiction of small-town life as overly sentimental; but the American Film Institute put it in first place on its list of the “most inspirational” American movies ever, and many millions of viewers clearly feel the same way. James Stewart, who starred as the self-sacrificing George Bailey, called it his favorite of all the films in which he had appeared during his long career.
J. Edgar Hoover apparently didn’t agree, finding the casting of Lionel Barrymore as the greedy banker Henry Potter, “the most hated man in the picture,” subversive. Calling this “a common trick used by Communists,” a 1947 FBI memo complained that It’s a Wonderful Life “deliberately maligned the upper class, attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable characters.” That’s a bit ironic, in light of the fact that Capra claimed that his own motivation in making the film was “to combat a modern trend toward atheism.”
Considering the role of the big banks in the 2008 economic meltdown, maybe It’s a Wonderful Life has acquired fresh pertinence for the modern age. Maybe it’s high time to see it again. The original movie version is always on TV around the winter holidays; but wouldn’t a new interpretation in a live medium be fun for a change?
The Rosendale Theatre Collective’s Ann Citron is directing a production this weekend of It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, a stage adaptation by Joe Landry that is presented in the format of a 1940s radio show. The show will be performed with live sound effects and music by Rosendale’s resident percussion guru Fre Atlast. Five actors – Claudia Brown, Kimberly Kay, Brian Mathews, Jim Metzner and Doug Motel – will play 50 roles.
Performances will take place on Friday and Saturday, December 13 and 14 at 7:30 p.m. and on Sunday, December 15 at 2 p.m. Tickets cost $15 general admission and $10 for children age 12 and under, and can be ordered online at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/515868. Find out more about it at https://rosendaletheatre.org or by calling (845) 658-8989.
All the proceeds of ticket sales from this special event go to benefit the Rosendale Theatre. Currently in the midst of major renovations, the vintage tin-ceilinged movie palace is a community asset of which George Bailey would have approved, even if the despicable Mr. Potter would have preferred to have it torn down to make way for a glitzy multiplex. If it’s true, as the angel Clarence avers, that the everyday decisions of one person can make a world of difference in the lives of his or her neighbors, then here’s a simple way to enhance the quality of life in a small American town – and have a good time while you’re at it. You may even hear some little bell ring (that’s your cue, Fre!) as you earn your theatrical angel’s wings.
It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, Friday/Saturday, December 13/14, 7:30 p.m., Sunday, December 15, 2 p.m., $15/$10, Rosendale Theatre, 408 Main Street, Rosendale; (845) 658-8989, https://rosendaletheatre.org, www.brownpapertickets.com/event/515868.