“Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.”

It’s a Wonderful Life is a charmer that encapsulates the season of giving. This classic Frank Capra film has become one of the best American films ever made and serves as a Christmas TV staple around the world. Theatrical productions based on the 1946 film have surfaced from all corners of the globe to recreate the magic that brought the Bailey family to life. The Arts Club Theatre has produced It’s a Wonderful Life for the last five years, and last night, I was honoured to watch its 200th show.

The show’s beautiful scenery is enhanced through black and white footage from the original film, adding another layer of dimension to the stage. The scenes move slowly, adding a further element of romanticism to the production. There are several modular sets incorporating period furniture. And a lit Christmas tree to make things festive.

Bob Frazer

I’ve enjoyed watching Bob Frazer as Biff Lohman in Death of a Salesman, and both my husband and I were particularly captivated by his role in Bard on the Beach’s Richard III. Here he’s doing a fine job as the compassionate, big-hearted George Bailey.

George has aspirations to design big buildings. We see him fresh out of high school, ready for to go to university, travel, and conquer the world. He’s filled with hope and makes his family proud.

Brother Harry (Kyle Jespersen) is giddy with excitement to be entering the world through his older brother’s eyes. And as time goes on, one by one, George’s dreams begin to disappear as he’s left behind in his home town of Bedford Falls to help (and eventually take over) the family business when his father suffers a stroke. He’s sacrificed a lot to keep the townspeople happy through his efforts at the Bailey Building and Loan Association.

Slumlord Henry Potter (Alec Willows, pulling his weight as a truly evil man) is ready to shut the Bailey business down at any cost but George stops him dead in his tracks.

Bernard Cuffling
[Bernard Cuffling]

Enter one Angel Second Class, Clarence (Bernard Cuffling steals the show in this role), who’s been sent down to look after George in hope of getting his wings. Clarence helps George to see what life would be like if George hadn’t been born. And the tale does come to a happy ending, proving that nice guys don’t always finish last.

Standout roles in this cast include Jennifer Lines playing Mary Bailey, the love of George’s life, Bernard Cuffling, who as mentioned above is an enjoyable, humourous angel to George Bailey’s bitter and depressed soul, and Bob Frazer in the lead role. Also watch newcomer Jordan Wessels (young George Bailey, All the Way Home) who together with his brother Aidan Wessels (young Harry Bailey, All the Way Home) join the family in this popular production.

Jennifer Lines, Bob Frazer
[Jennifer Lines, Bob Frazer]

If you haven’t yet seen the film, it’s worth checking out. And then come watch this colourful production that brings the spirit of giving to life. This cast works very well together under the direction of Dean Paul Gibson, who took the spotlight at the end of last night’s show to mark the milestone performance.

It’s a Wonderful Life continues through December 29 at the Granville Island Stage, 1585 Johnston Street in Vancouver.

Photos courtesy of David Cooper.

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