There are a lot of classic films that have made their way to the stage to varying degrees of success. And with the proliferation of warm and cozy entertainment during the holiday season, it's no wonder that there are at least four different stage versions of the beloved “It’s a Wonderful Life” including a musical and a radio play. The perennial classic makes its appearance every December in all its forms, and those that adore the film are usually very happy with the stage adaptations. You can catch one of those adaptations on stage right now in the Phamaly production of “It’s a Wonderful Life” now playing at the Aurora Fox through December 22.
Phamaly (formerly the Physically Handicapped Actors and Musical Artists League) brings this holiday favorite to the stage with as much heart and warmth as one would expect. The classic story of George Bailey comes to life as this talented group of artists explores what life would have been like if he’d never been born. All of the familiar favorites are there. George Bailey’s (Jeremy Palmer) background is exposed as we learn all about his life in Bedford Falls. Meanwhile, the angel Clarence (Trenton Schindele) is watching from above, waiting to spring into action to save the man’s life.
The performances are all strong, with a lot of familiar Phamaly faces in the leading roles. Palmer’s Bailey is likable, and he brings a lot of grounding and stability to this difficult character arc. Mary Hatch Bailey (Lyndsay Palmer) is also vividly portrayed, with a wonderful wide-eyed enthusiasm and heart. Schindele’s Clarence is also very strong, with loads of humor and wonderful physical comedy, keeping the moments light and enjoyable.
Of course, no re-telling of “It’s a Wonderful Life” would be complete without the kids, and the Bailey children (Noal Blessing, Lily Blessing Everett Ediger, Haper Ediget) are perfectly adorable, injecting just the right amount of sugary sweetness into the show.
The set design (M. Curtis Grittner) is also very well done, with a steep rake, allowing the audience an excellent view of the stage from all angles, without any issues in sightlines, and several playing areas showcasing some truly spectacular media work (El Armstrong.)
The only difficulty comes from the same inherent issues that arise with any conversion of film to stage. The cinematic nature of film allows multiple locations and quick changes, which works perfectly when on the big screen. However, when you make that conversion to stage, you do not have the luxury of yelling “cut.” Instead, there are super fast changes from one location to the next, with help from the media projection. The locations are clear, but the quick changes back and forth as all of the exposition is released feels chaotic, making it difficult to empathize with some of the characters. This is a common problem with almost every adapted version of this show, though Phamaly does an excellent job of keeping the pace up, this production also has that same trouble.
That difficulty aside, this is still a truly heartfelt production, told in the way that only a Phamaly show can tell it. As Artistic Director Steve Wilson explained, “The Phamaly Theatre Company is made up of performers who might believe on any given day that they don’t have such a wonderful life, and yet their contribution to the beauty and diversity of our community is immense. The very existence of our company and the presentation of this production highlights the extraordinary value they offer each and every day.”
If you are looking for the a great holiday favorite, something that is perfectly suited to putting a smile on your face and Christmas cheer in your heart – then you should pick up tickets for this closing weekend’s performances of Phamaly’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.” You’ll see Bedford Falls in all it’s holiday splendor, bells will ring and angels will get their wings.
Phamaly Theatre Company presents
"It's a Wonderful Life"
Playing through December 22
At The Aurora Fox Theatre
9900 E Colfax Ave, Aurora, CO
$29 Adult; $25 group of 10+
or online at www.phamaly.org