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By Daniel Skora
The Williamston Theatre is presenting "This Wonderful Life," a stage interpretation of Frank Capra's 1946 film "It's a Wonderful Life." The show reprises a Williamston production of a couple of years ago and is performed in the finest tradition of live theater: a simple stage, a single actor, a few sticks of furniture, and a compelling script.
John Lepard's performance is a tour de force in which he portrays all of the characters in this story of how one man comes to learn the value of a simple life lived with humility, charity and dedication.
The movie is frequently found at the top of many best-films lists and because of its Christmassy setting has become a television holiday favorite. It's the story of George Bailey, a citizen of the small town of Bedford Falls who sacrifices his dreams of seeing the world after his father's stroke proves fatal.
He takes over the family Building and Loan business, marries his sweetheart and fathers four children. He is always there to help anyone in need and a great many of the townspeople owe their homes and livelihoods to some kindness that has been extended to them by Bailey. At every step of the way, the heartless financier Henry Potter makes every effort to trump George's goodness and gain control of the Bailey business.
When a large sum of money goes missing and the company is on the verge of bankruptcy, George becomes despondent. Thoughts of suicide and his desperate plea for help find their way to the heavens, and Clarence, a second-class angel anxious to earn his wings, is sent to assist.
Lepard is brilliant as he makes his way through the dozens of characters, male and female, young and old, that populate the story and the town of Bedford Falls. And he's capable of more than a passable impression of Jimmy Stewart, who played Bailey in the movie.
Playwright Steve Murray's script is faithful to the film even as it provides some breathing room for Lepard to serve as both narrator of the story and super-fan of the movie. The script in fact provides for two versions of the film: a quick two-minute version that Lepard tears through with humorous sensibilities, and a longer one of less than 90 minutes that's appreciably funnier than the movie.
"This Wonderful Life," directed by Tony Caselli, is a wonderful piece of theatrics. Fans of the movie will enjoy this unique presentation of a revered film, and first timers will be introduced to a story sure to warm the heart. Everyone will appreciate the inspired work of John Lepard, whose masterful performance gives life to a whole town full of people and will bring a smile to your face along the way.
Lighting is by Reid G. Johnson with scenic design by Bartley H. Bauer. The production runs through December 23.
SHOW DETAILS: Tickets are available by calling 517-655-7469. Performances include Saturday and Sunday matinees. Additional information is available online at www.williamstontheatre.org. The Williamston Theatre is located this side of Lansing in downtown Williamston at 122 South Putnam (exit 117 off of I-96).
Reprinted with permission of the New Monitor, Dec. 1, 2011
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