The film It's a Wonderful Life, directed by Frank Capra in 1946, and starring James Stewart, has become a beloved staple of the Christmas Season and is listed as one of the top films ever made. There are several musical and non-musical adaptations available. The non-musical stage version now playing in Millbrook is a two-act fantasy drama by James W. Rodgers.
Faithful to the film's plot while narrating some episodes rather than staging them, and sensitively directed by A. John Collier, the cast of twenty-seven actors moves the story efficiently to come in at under two hours.
On a neutral open stage that becomes the numerous locations in and around the fictional town of Bedford Falls with simple adjustments of scenery and minimal props, the familiar story of George Bailey [Brady Walker] unfolds. -- From the opening moment when Angel Second-Class Clarence Odbody [Wes Meyer] intervenes in George's attempted suicide we are treated to a nostalgic feel-good celebration of his truly "wonderful life".
Brought to despair by debt, and believing himself to be worth more dead than alive, George is shown the many good deeds he did throughout his life, and horrifyingly sees what Bedford Falls would be like had he never been born; he is willing to face the consequences and is saved by the townspeople whose lives he impacted.
From his childhood, George dreamed of seeing the world and making a financial success for himself. Brought up to respect others and help them whenever he could, the rapid-fire episodes tell how he saved his brother from drowning, intervened in a mistaken medical prescription, puts his dreams on hold to take over the family's "Savings and Loan" business, marries his sweetheart Mary [Sarah Olguin], stands up to the nasty richest man in town Mr. Potter [John Chain] during the Depression's financial crash, and pretty much has a positive impact on the entire populace.
Though George is not an astute businessman, he is a man of principle and though he doesn't realize it, a role model par excellence. It is only when he reaches the depths of despair that he is shown his own worth.
The Millbrook company make the story and characters their own, without any attempt at mimicking the film, and without any unnecessary saccharined overlaying. This adds a freshness to the experience, allowing audiences to get caught up in the suspense and twists of plot.
And yes, there are lessons to be learned here, appropriate to Christmas or any other season: material wealth is not the complete measure of success, kindness to one another and sacrificing oneself for their betterment delivers a truly "wonderful life".