The cast and crew of Theatre Centre want to make that tradition even more special with a live performance of the story about a good man who almost loses his faith, and the angel who helps him save it.
On Dec. 5, 6, and 7, beginning at 7 p.m. each evening, the National Guard Amory in Centre is transformed into Bedford Falls, where George Bailey’s life is played out in living color. Tickets are $10 each and can be purchased at the door.
New and veteran actors are becoming familiar characters from the movie under the direction of Kay Davis.
Davis has directed Theatre Centre’s Christmas plays for the past two years, and has gone all out to bring this film favorite to the stage.
“This play is such a beloved Christmas memory, and I’m so excited to bring it to Cherokee County,” Davis said.
The story is one of community and friends helping friends, but it centers on two main characters.
George Bailey is your average nice guy, who does above-average things for his fellow man. When George comes to a crisis in life that he can’t see a way out of, he wonders if he would be better dead than alive.
The other main character in the story is an angel who doesn’t look very angel-like. In fact, Clarence looks just like another average nice guy who has been sent to help George see that even in the midst of crisis, he does, in fact, have a wonderful life. Clarence is also hoping that by saving George he will finally earn that one thing that every angel wants — his wings.
George Luttrell Varnell III plays George Bailey. While not necessarily a newcomer to the theater, Varnell admits he has never played a part like this.
“I wanted to play this part because it is true. I’ve had a wonderful life. No matter how things get, we really are blessed,” Varnell said. “I think it is a spiritual movie. We do have angels I believe. They show up in our lives a lot.”
Varnell credits his mother, Martha Jane Varnell, with getting him interested in theater in the first place.
“My mother started plays in this area with Ann Jordan in 1972,” Varnell reported. “I just wanted to honor my mom by being in this one.”
Varnell adds another reason the community will enjoy the show.
“They’ll see that this happens every day. Local people in our town have the courage to see themselves really having a wonderful life,” Varnell said.
Clarence, played by Larry Guffey, believes folks who see the play will get more than just a night out .
“People who come to see the play will get their Christmas spirit started,” Guffey said. “I think the play is better than the movie.”
Guffey knew from the start that he wanted to play Clarence.
“I fell in love with the character Clarence, because Clarence really tells the story,” Guffey said.
And what story is that?
“He needs some wings!,” Guffey explained. “And Clarence gives George Bailey his wish that he had never been born, and then Clarence has to reverse it. I think people can relate to this play because everyone at one time or another has wished they had never been born.”
There is also a character in the play that most who have seen the move love to hate. Mean, old Mr. Potter is played by Charles Garrett.
Garrett is a veteran of Theatre Centre Christmas plays, and has enjoyed getting into the Potter part.
“I wanted to be Mr. Potter because he is a mean, old man, and I thought it would be fun to be that for a change,” Garrett said with a grin.
Garrett joined Bob Bright to build the play’s sets as well, which include the Bailey home at Christmas and the famous snowy bridge where George Bailey first meets his angel, Clarence.
“Bob Bright and I work together as a team,” Garrett explained. “I get to see this play as an actor and as a set builder. We want the sets built as quickly as possible so the actors can feel their part. George and Clarence can practice their parts better when they are standing on that bridge covered in snow.”
Noting that the play would obviously not have Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed in their familiar roles, Garrett thinks this production offers the community something even better.
“This play is our local interpretation of a classic movie, and that is what America is about. We take something good and do our interpretation of it,” Garrett said. “We have a good cast for this play and they love what they are doing.”
Other cast members include Amy Bennett as George Bailey’s wife, Mary. His children are played by Alanna Huskey, Hannah Horton, Chelsea Hill, Grace Locklear, Dylan Keasler, and Maggie Mullaney.
Joel Bishop plays George Bailey as a boy. Mother Bailey is played by Lana Evans. Playing two parts, Will Bailey plays both Harry Bailey and Sam Wainwright.
George Bailey’s muddled Uncle Billy is played by Al Gordan, and Charlotte Taylor plays Aunt Tilly.
Others in the cast include George Scroggin, Shai Whaley, Ted Bridges, Gary Davis, Joy Coker Perry, Ginger Cobia, Tracy Bishop, Terry Dean, Ron Belscher, Cassandra Aschwege, Alexia Wood, Melanie Jones, Mary Wade, Bethany Leonard, Lindsey Izell, and Addison Johnson.
As movie-watchers know, it all works out somehow for George Bailey, and he does get his faith back with a little help from his friends.
But the real question remains – does Clarence ever get his wings?
To learn the answer to that question, theater-goers will have to pay special attention to one of the most famous lines uttered, and one of the last.
Six-year-old Maggie Mullaney who plays George’s youngster daughter, ZuZu, will have the privilege of letting the audience know how Clarence faired. With her full head of curls and big eyes, Cherokee County’s own “ZuZu” could even help mean old Mr. Potter get into the Christmas spirit.
When asked what she thought her famous line about bell ringing might mean, Mullaney replied, “It means an angel gets their wings. Behind their back.”
Director Davis hopes everyone will take the opportunity to see Theatre Centre’s production of It’s a Wonderful Life during one of the three performances offered.
“What people have seen on TV they will get to see in real life,” Davis said. “And anytime you have live actors it makes everything special.”