By Billy Tuite —
The Menomonie Theater Guild is giving you the chance of a lifetime this December with live performances of Frank Capra’s heartwarming piece of holiday cinema “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
This stage adaptation of the 1946 film chronicles the trials and tribulations of George Bailey, a Bedford Falls local who dreams of traveling the world. However, his ambitions are crushed by family and work obligations, which leads him to financial ruin and a bout of depression. On Christmas Eve, on the verge of ending his own life, Bailey is rescued by a guardian angel who reminds Bailey of the positive impact he’s had on his community.
“It’s A Wonderful Life” marks the directorial debut of Menomonie Theater Guild veteran Jonathan Hillman. An admirer of Frank Capra’s original movie, Hillman aims to recapture that cinematic magic in stage-play form.
“I put a large pressure on myself to make it as true to the original as possible because I’m such a huge fan of the movie,” Hillman said. “We strived to make our poster look like the original one, and there are also just some key scenes that I want to look as close as possible to the source material.”
Some changes needed to be made to the script in this live adaptation for the sake of brevity, but Hillman promises all the famous scenes will still be present for everyone to enjoy.
“I love seeing my favorite scenes over and over every night,” Hillman said. “The scene with George promising to lasso the moon for his soon-to-be wife Mary… I could watch that scene relentlessly and never get sick of it.”
The actors themselves are equally committed to maintaining an accurate portrayal of their original counterparts. This is especially true of Mitchell Ogden, who is taking on the lead role of Bailey.
“There are some roles from film that are just so big that there’s no other way you can play them,” Ogden said. “I told John from the beginning, ‘If you don’t want me to stutter and gesticulate like Jimmy Stewart, you have to tell me right away, because that’s all I know how to do.’”
“I think everybody is expecting to see the classic characters played by Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed,” added Katie Shay, who is playing the role of Mary Hatch Bailey. “You’re going to get that feeling of these old-timey ‘40s movie stars, but every performer has their own spin on their character.”
Aside from achieving cinematic accuracy, another challenge the Theater Guild faces with this production is balancing the warm, nostalgic feelings of the story with a character who’s on the verge of suicide. According to Hillman, however, that heavy subject matter, along with the positive outcome, is exactly why people should see this play.
“I think, especially in our current economic climate, this show is more relevant than ever because a lot of people are on the brink of financial ruin, just like George,” Hillman said. “You leave with the feeling that your community and your loved ones are important because they make life worth living.”
“It’s A Wonderful Life” will be playing in the Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts on Dec. 5, 6, 12 and 13 at 7:30 p.m., with matinee showings at 2 p.m. on Dec. 6, 7, 13 and 14. To purchase tickets, call 715-231-7529 or head over to menomonietheaterguild.com