Cedar Street Theatre will bring Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” to the Lancaster Performing Arts Center’s main stage for three performances over two days only — 8 p.m., Nov. 30 and 2 and 7 p.m., Dec. 2. Tickets are $22.
“We’ve done ‘Christmas Carol’ for a number of years and we decided we wanted to expand the repertoire and have three or four Christmas classics that we can rotate,” Director David Alan Smith, who is also Cedar Street Theatre president, said.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” is the community theater group’s first new addition to its holiday production slate. The stage script was written from Capra’s classic 1946 film script, so popular lines such as, “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings,” are in the stage production.
The story is familiar to fans of the film: George Bailey (Gary Shaffner) has so many problems, he is thinking about ending it all. An angel sent from heaven shows George what life in Bedford Falls would have looked like if he had never been born.
“It’s a heart-warming tale told by some of the Antelope Valley’s best storytellers,” Smith said. “You will cry, you will sigh, you will smile and at the end, of course, everyone’s happy.”
Smith, a community theater veteran said directing “It’s a Wonderful Life” was a personal challenge.
“I wanted to stretch myself and this show has done it,” he said.
Conceptually, the show is different on stage than what people are used to seeing. And because it is such a well-known entity, many people know the lines by heart.
“That’s always a challenge to put up something that everybody knows exactly what’s going to happen and everybody knows who’s going to say what,” Smith said. “That’s a challenge to make that fresh, even though they’ve seen it 40 times.”
The stage production will feature a hefty ”Bedford Falls” sign first used 20 years ago, when the Palmdale City Players produced the show. Smith included it in his production as an homage to the show.
The cast includes Shaffner, Candace Smith as Mary Bailey, Ella Burns as Zuzu Bailey, Vanessa Chandler as Violet and David Carr as Henry Potter.
“Someone in this cast has been in the majority of the shows in the last 20 years in this Valley,” David Alan Smith said. “They cover every theater company, they cover every venue, they cover the musicals, the straight plays, the comedies, they are everywhere.”
Joe Gruca, who plays Mr. Gower, performed the role of Uncle Billy in the Palmdale City Players production in 1998. He also played Uncle Billy in a production of “It’s a Wonderful Life” produced by It’s Only Tuesday Productions, a few years ago.
“‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is my favorite all-time movie,” he said. “I could watch that over and over and over.”
Gruca added he has not done community theater in a while because of work and commuting.
“I’m having a ball,” he said.
Gruca added he missed the camaraderie of the actors.
“I’m kind of catching the bug again,” he said. “I haven’t done it for so many years … The bug is kind of biting me now.”
Shaffner, whose last theater production was Palmdale Repertory Theatre’s production of “Dracula: The Musical?” said playing an iconic character such a George Bailey was intimidating.
“I needed to be sure when I took the part, that he didn’t expect me to me be Jimmy Stewart, which was a relief, because nobody could that,” he said. “He just said ‘Make it real for you,’ so that’s what I try to do.”
Joel Coder, 13, plays the young George Bailey.
“I’m very excited to be in this show because the cast is just amazing,” he said.
Candace Smith, who plays Mary Bailey, grew up in the Antelope Valley. She performed with the Highland High School Players and lives in Burbank, now. She drove the two-hour round-trip commute for rehearsals to be in the show.
“It’s based on my favorite film of all time,” she said. “‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is also a perfect show for Cedar Street Theatre.”
Candace Smith said everyone can identify with feeling useless, especially this time of year.
“I’ve experienced holiday seasons not feeling great and so I think it just feels important to be a part of it,” she said.
Candace Smith wanted to play Mary in part, because she struggles with optimism.
“She represents all the things I personally want to be,” she said. “Because she’s not naive, it’s this fine balance of being worldly but compassionate and optimistic. It’s kind of like the ideal of what I’d like to be.”