Erin Palm & Nick Fontaine as Mary and George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life. Photo by David Cooper.
Erin Palm & Nick Fontaine as Mary and George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life. Photo by David Cooper.

A staple for many during the holiday season is a trip to Bedford Falls with Jimmy Stewart in Frank Capra’s 1946 film It’s A Wonderful Life. For those who can’t get enough of this uplifting story, Patrick Street Productions will once again present Peter Jorgenson’s musical stage adaptation of this perennial Christmas favourite.

Featuring classic musical standards and traditional holiday carols, It’s A Wonderful Life is the story of Clarence, the Angel who has been struggling for over 200 years to get his wings. One fateful Christmas Eve, Clarence is tasked with saving George Bailey, who is contemplating suicide. By showing him what the world would be like without him, George finally realizes just how wonderful life truly is.

Last seen at Richmond’s Gateway Theatre in 2018, this Christmas, the team has moved to New Westminster’s Anvil Centre with many of its original cast in this family-friendly production.

In this Q&A, we find out more from Jorgenson.

Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited and is based on the original Vancouver Presents Q&A published on November 29, 2018.

What compelled you to make a new adaptation of this classic piece?

I was asked to direct a production of It’s a Wonderful Life for the Chemainus Theatre Festival back in 2013. I love the story, but I didn’t love any of the available stage adaptations, and artistic director Mark Dumez wanted it to be a musical. At some point, the idea struck to use songs from the era for the score.

"I hope people get swept up in the life of George Bailey in a new way." - Peter Jorgenson
“I hope people get swept up in the life of George Bailey in a new way.” – Peter Jorgenson

In a traditional musical, the songs are used in place of dialogue, in particular, the emotional life of the characters. Did you cut some of the text to insert songs?

A lot, but it wasn’t hard. The Capra script is fantastic. But I found that often the same things were being said two or three times. So I took my red pencil to it and cut it way back, but didn’t lose any of the narrative. I cut a couple of scenes and conflated some other scenes together. However, I tried to keep all of the signature moments from the film present in the adaptation while still trying to give the audience a new experience.  In the end, the musical is a little shorter than the film if you don’t count intermission.

You are using traditional and classic songs. What was your process in selecting pieces for the show?

Right off the bat, there were a few songs that I already knew that seemed perfect. I’m a musical theatre junkie, and for a while, I was obsessed with that classic era of musical theatre of the 1920s and 30s.

The short answer to the question is a lot of research, a lot of thought, a lot of care. And ultimately, it was finding the right content in each song that made it stick.

What do you want the audience to experience? Why should they come?

Greg Armstrong-Morris as angel-second class, Clarence in Its a Wonderful Life. Photo by David Cooper.
Greg Armstrong-Morris will once again reprise his role as the angel Clarence in Its a Wonderful Life. Photo by David Cooper.

The musical theatre geek in me wants to give people a chance to enjoy the story of It’s a Wonderful Life in a whole new way.

I always feel that if you’re going to adapt something for the stage, then you have to reimagine it; you have to capitalize on what we do well in the theatre, and not just try to plop the source material on stage and expect it to work. So, I hope people get swept up in the life of George Bailey in a new way.

The politically socialist part of me wants people to recognize that investing in people is more important than investing in profits.

And most importantly, the simple human part of me wants everyone to be reminded that it’s the people in our life that make it truly wonderful, and perhaps that each of us makes life wonderful for someone else.

It’s A Wonderful Life plays the Anvil Centre (777 Columbia Street, New Westminster) from December 19 through January 5. Tickets are available online at Tickets Tonight or visit patrickstreetproductions.com for more information.