The Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of It’s a Wonderful Life pays homage to the classic film without trying to compete. It’s a nostalgia fuelled show that will leave you wet-faced and smiling.
Based on the 1946 film, It’s a Wonderful Life follows the angel Clarence as he watches over the life of George Bailey. George has big dreams but circumstances and his good heart get in the way. Clarence shows a floundering George what the world would be like without him that provides just the shock he needs to set him straight.
Bob Frazer’s George Bailey is endearing without being saccharine, while Bernard Cuffling’s Clarence keeps the child-like grace of Henry Travers with just a hint of mischief. Leading ladies Eileen Barrett and Jennifer Lines as Mother and Mary Bailey offer high emotional stakes, and Irene Karas Loeper and Lindsay Angell shine as the comedic relief as Tilly and Violet Bick.
But it is little Sylvie Odette Thomas as Zuzu who steals your heart in her Arts Club debut. Her “every angel gets its wings” line elicits the same “aw” from the audience that you felt in the film.
It’s a Wonderful Life is a holiday tradition for many families and rather than compete with the image of Jimmy Stewart racing through the snow, director Dean Paul Gibson and set designer Ted Roberts project footage from the film as the backdrop. This allows the audience to maintain a nostalgic connection to the film while experiencing the story in a new medium. You can almost feel a subtle tip of the hat to its source material in each scene.
The Arts Club has revived a bit of Christmas magic with It’s a Wonderful Life. While the pace of the resolution seems rushed, the emotional punch of the story will leave you smiling through your tears. It’s a Wonderful Life is festive, familiar, and filled with fun.
It’s a Wonderful Life by Philip Grecian. Directed by Dean Paul Gibson. On stage at the Granville Island Stage (1585 Johnston St, Vancouver) until December 26, 2015. Visit http://artsclub.com for tickets and information.