You could say it’s one of the most awkward first dates ever, if it’s even a date, when George Bailey visits Mary Hatch in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
The house smells like pine needles, he tells her, apropos of nothing. He fumbles a chance to compliment her on her dress. He’s not sure why he came over. Maybe he should leave, he says.
Mary’s eavesdropping mother, meanwhile, is fairly screeching from another room. She’d love to have George leave so Mary would be free to take a phone call from that up-and-coming Sam Wainwright.
Then the magic happens. Sam’s call brings George and Mary into proximity – and suddenly they can’t resist their first kiss. Suddenly, George seems like a lucky man.
As Mike Marone and Jen Kozerski rehearsed that scene at Theatre at the Grove in Nuangola last weekend, some spectators couldn’t help but think of Frank Capra’s 1946 film version of the holiday classic. Marone actually seemed to channel Jimmy Stewart’s speech patterns.
But the stage version of the heartwarming tale is not a carbon copy of the movie. For one thing, it’s filled with songs.
“The music is beautifully written,” said musical director Kim Crofchick, who believes audiences will especially appreciate a medley of carols the cast sings “on Christmas Eve.”
Audience members may be invited to join in that medley, said Marone, who is directing the show as well as portraying George.
“The character of George Bailey is relatable,” Marone said, explaining why people have been rooting for the character for decades. “Everyone at some point has to go through some form of hardship. And when George is really down and out, the community stands by him.”
As fans of the movie probably can recite from memory, George’s hardships include deafness in one ear, incurred when he rescued his younger brother, Harry, from drowning in icy water as a child. As an adult, George misses out on going to college, giving up his chance so his brother can accept a better job out of town instead of managing the old Building & Loan.
Then just as George is finally about to get a chance to travel, there’s a run on the Building & Loan. He and Mary use their honeymoon money to solve that crisis.
Eventually, George finds himself facing financial ruin, disgrace, and prison because, through no fault of his own, $8,000 is missing from the Building & Loan. When he decides he’d be better off dead, an “angel second class” named Clarence comes to Earth to convince him his life is worth living.
“Clarence is an easy character for me,” said George Steltz of Hanover Township. “I’m a lot like Clarence, a very simple person, with childlike faith.”
With help from Clarence, George gets a second chance at life. And it’s only fair. After all, thanks to George, so many other characters get a reprieve of some sort, from Mr. Gower, the druggist who employed him as a youth, to Violet, the town siren, to Uncle Billy, not exactly the most competent office worker.
“Uncle Billy is a good-hearted, bumbling fool,” said Jeff Smith of Shavertown, who has that role. “He’s your best friend and your worst nightmare. If it wasn’t for his brother and then George employing him, he’d be out on the street.”
There is one person in the show, Mr. Potter, who apparently doesn’t want a second chance.
“I tap into my mean side” to play Mr. Potter, Drew Coffman of Hazleton said.
David Parmalee, who plays “Mr. Gower, drunk and sober” as well as George Bailey’s father and the bank examiner, said early movie audiences complained in a flurry of letters about the way a nasty-to-the-end Potter simply fades from the story.
“They wanted him to get his comeuppance,” Parmalee noted.