Not even the Hallmark Channel’s lock on the holiday movie lane with the steady flow of new films can keep Frank Capra’s Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” out of rotation each year.
St. Louis stage audiences who love the film have a special treat available to them thanks to Metro Theater Company’s staging of an abbreviated adaptation of the film with an added twist by St. Louis playwright John Wolbers.
Metro Theater Company caters to youth, which puts them in a unique position of telling the story – adding new elements that pay homage to the good old days while being mindful of the attention span of their target audience.
It is a challenge they handle with ease, thanks to Wolbers. With the adaptation he conveys the heart and soul of a 2-hour, 15-minute film in 50 minutes on stage. It’s a talent that cannot be overstated.
And without shaving away from the story, Wolbers adds the drama within a drama to further drive the message of the movie and the spirit of the season.
As opposed to an update that is mindful of a generation that has had the luxury of advanced technology for their entire life, Metro’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” goes completely analog to illustrate the power and importance of human connection and community around the holidays.
Set in a fictional radio station in the 1940s – at a time before television mass production, let alone cell phones – a team of radio station employees, despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles, must be extremely resourceful and fearless as they attempt to continue the station’s annual broadcast of the reading of “It’s a Wonderful Life” before a live studio audience. An unlikely ensemble lends their voices to make for one of the most special readings.
In Metro’s presentation of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” African American actors Abraham Shaw and Alicia Reve Like pair up as George Bailey and his dutiful wife Mary.
As the story goes, after a lifetime of putting the needs of others above desires for his own life, it puts George in a dark place just ahead of the holidays. The help of a guardian angel helps him see life as the gift that it is and that none of his sacrifices for the greater good of his community of Bedford Falls – a fictional city representing small town USA – are in vain.
The cast ensemble of actors that also include Carl Overly Jr., Chris E. Ware, Roxane McWilliams, Nicole Angeli and Mindy Shaw, are a well-meshed machine. Through chemistry and talent they effectively convey the story as well as give viewers insight as far as the lengths entertainers went to engage with audiences in an analog world – and how patrons had no choice but to use their imaginations to engage in the art that was presented to them.
The direction by Metro Theater’s artistic director Julia Flood gives the play a pace that squeezes in both storylines without leaving the viewer’s head spinning. That is no small feat when considering the minutes she’s given to work with. Scenic designer Jamie Perkins and costume designer Lou Bird create charming visual elements that speak directly to the era – particularly the black and white tile of the KMTC sound stage, the double-breasted suit worn by Carl Overly’s Chester Collins character and each of the women’s ensembles that effectively reflect their respective stations in life.
Through the performances and the production value, St. Louis audiences will be gifted with a nostalgic experience that – like the film that inspired it – ushers all who see it heart first into the holiday spirit.
Metro Theater Company’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life” continues through December 15 at The Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. For a full schedule or to purchase tickets, call 314-534-1111 or visit www.metrotix.com. For more information on Metro Theater Company, visit metroplays.org or call (314) 932-7414.