Encore Michigan

John Lepard transforms a Christmas classic in ‘This Wonderful Life’

Review December 01, 2021 Julie Linderleaf

WILLIAMSTON, MI – “For a Christmas Story, this is pretty sexy,” is a line written by Steve Murray and casually delivered with a sly smile by John Lepard during the Williamston Theatre’s first production in the 2021-22 season – This Wonderful Life. 

The turkeys are all cooked and the pie pans are empty, and dreams of the Christmas holidays begin dancing in the heads of everyone as the happy holiday Christmas season bursts into December. Christmas movies abound the airways with themes of warming the coldest of hearts or changing lives in the best possible ways sometimes all with just a Christmas wish. 

This Wonderful Life has all of the above. Adapted from the original black and white classic Jimmy Stewart Christmas miracle movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” With one big exception: instead of a full cast of dozens of actors, one man tackles them all!  John Lepard, Co-Founder of the Williamston Theatre, reprises the role he explained he performed 10 years prior. From simple character switches from changing his height, switching arm positions while dancing, or adapting his accents, Lepard successfully portrays the dozens of beloved characters from the 1946 classic film written by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Kapra, and Jo Swerling. Lepard even pulls off the iconic Jimmy Stewart nasally, fumbly mid-western accent, as well as Nick the bartender, Mr. Martini, Mr. Gower, and the nasty mean ole Mr. Potter. Sometimes, one can even forget that it’s only one person telling this holiday tale. 

The minimal set of a desk, chair, stairs, stool, and phone designed by Bartley H. Bauer simply assists Lepard tell the story of the soul-tossing story of the life-weary George Bailey and his wish that he had never been born. As simple as the set is, Lepard moves the pieces fluidly around to different locations while acting out the different scenes so that the audience on all three sides never miss a beat under the creative direction of Tony Caselli. 

Lighting Designer Dustin D. Miller makes the audience feel as if they are right there on the bridge with George Bailey as he contemplates the thought that “He is worth more dead than alive.” Lighting of flowing rivers and land as well as minor light-up gobo signs quickly make for quick and flowing setting changes. 

Alongside a simple set, a black and what seems like a simple white-paint splattered wall, comes alive with a surprising cool effect of blinking stars and recorded voices, which begins telling the story with the lead angels preparing to assign Clarence another chance to earn his wings as an Angel First Class, while Lepard as the narrator, stands aside and watches it too.  Probably the most unique effect in the show. 

This is the perfect show to turn off the ghost light and brighten those lights that have been dimmed for the past 20 long months. This Wonderful Life is a once in a lifetime chance to see such a well-written script delivered so casually by an actor he seems like he’s making it up as he goes along. However, I checked the script:  Lepard internalized the lines perfectly to give it that whole down-to-earth conversational tone that truly gives this show life.

Make sure to definitely throw a lasso around this show and don’t miss your chance to see this “What if” wonder.  The show continues through December 19 and ticket prices range from $28-$37. Be aware that proof of vaccination or a recent negative covid test, masks, and temperature checks will be necessary before entering the theatre.

Social distancing is limiting the seats available so definitely get your tickets before they sell out. Go to www.williamstontheatre.org to order tickets. Don’t miss out viewing this sexy Christmas story.

Week of 1/17/2022

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