★★★★½ (out of 5)Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre; dir. by Douglas E. Stark; through Nov. 20.
It's a Wonderful Life is a wonderful production in every respect. Beef & Boards has produced a winning combination, adhering to the original film while allowing the actors to be alive on their own terms. Douglas Stark's stage adaptation of Frank Capra's 1946 comedy/drama is both witty and full of pathos. Composer Michael Hoagland folds the original film score into new music to accompany the play, rather than creating a musical.
This stage production gives the actors a lot to work with to create multi-dimensional characters. The poignancy, however, is in the timeliness of the story, starting in the post World War I era when Savings & Loan institutions gained popularity as a way for ordinary people to finance a home or small business and build modest savings. Throughout the play, we experience the impact of the benevolent Pop Bailey versus the harsh attitude of Mr. Potter, who makes Scrooge look like Santa Claus. George Bailey not only "inherits" his father's principles, he finds himself living them in opposition to Potter's attempts to squeeze the little guys out of business.
Navigating through the Depression and World War II, a crisis of human error finally pushes George to the "end of his rope." It's a morality tale and an inspirational saga laced with reality, as Potter never changes nor gets his due for unscrupulous actions. But George learns why his life is significant, and that transfers to the other characters and to us in the seats. It's not about punishing the bad guys, it's about being a caring, responsible human being. The character of Mary Hatch Bailey is pivotal to who George becomes. The entire cast is superb, and the musicians and designers are on the mark.