You probably have seen – maybe more than once – Jimmy Stewart portray George Bailey in the Christmas movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Olde Glory Theatre actor Rory Nolan has never seen the movie but nearly has the entire stage version memorized. He won’t watch the movie before Dec. 9, no matter how many times it shows up on cable TV.
Nolan doesn’t want Jimmy Stewart’s George to influence the George he is creating along with director Mark Ballard for the theater’s annual Christmas show.
“It’s a Wonderful Life,” as entertaining as it is heart-warming, will have a five-performance run at the Olde Glory Theatre in Seward Dec. 4 - 8, including three dinner theater shows.
The timeless tale is best remembered for the clever strategy used by eccentric Angel 2nd Class Clarence Oddbody to talk the despondent George out of leaping from the Bedford Falls bridge.
George, a small-town banker enduring a run (pun intended) of troubles, has convinced himself his life has meant nothing to the town and he is worth more to his family dead than alive. It is no spoiler to reveal that curmudgeon Henry Potter, the richest and meanest man in Bedford Falls, does not win in the end.
Despite a sprawling cast of 27 players, George Bailey is on the Olde Glory stage almost every moment of the play. Asked if that was more work than fun, Nolan said, Jimmy Stewart-like: “Heck no. If I weren’t meeting new people, enjoying myself, learning new skills, I wouldn’t be doing this. Having fun is the whole reason I’m here.”
Director Ballard chose “It’s a Wonderful Life” for this year’s holiday offering while acting in last summer’s Flatwater Shakespeare Company production of “The Two Gentlemen of Verona.”
Ballard, a veteran of numerous productions in Lincoln and Seward, is by day executive director of Greene Place assisted living community in Seward.
By night, he is shaping the words and movements of players ranging in age from lower grade school to 80-something, reading parts for actors who must miss a rehearsal, noting where and how props will move and where lighting will be aimed.
“I worked as technical director on another ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ a couple decades ago,” Ballard said. “The guy wanted snow. I gave him snow.”
This production has no snow, but offers many other things, including Justin Baldinger as the flaky angel Clarence; Norman Porath as the villainous Potter; Ken Kloke as George’s business partner Uncle Billy and Hannah Bales as George’s wife, Mary.
It is apparent from the playbill that three Janda daughters and their mother, Ellie, are in the play—but that the kids play George Bailey’s kids, while their real mother plays bank customer Mrs. Martini.
Rehearsals are hurry-up-and-wait for most actors in any stage production. In this case it means a busy offstage mix of coloring books and smartphones.
Onstage, it’s looking a lot like Clarence Oddbody is nearly ready to earn his…well, most of you know what.