MATTHEWS – Snowfall, relatable characters and meaningful messages will all come together in the Matthews Playhouse stage adaption of “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
The play, based on the 1947 film, follows George Bailey on Christmas Eve. After his Uncle Billy loses $8,000, George feels distraught and suicidal. A guardian angel comes to his rescue to show George what life would be like if he had died, showing George the number of lives he changed just by being part of them.
June Bayless directed the production for Matthews Playhouse. She said the stage production is very similar to the movie, though some scenes could not be brought to life on the stage. However, the uplifting message of the show still stands.
“It hits all the high points of the story,” Bayless said. “I don’t think you will miss anything from the movie and if you haven’t seen the movie, it doesn’t matter because it’s a beautiful story that stands on its own.”
A key element of the movie that was able to convert to the stage production is the snow. Bayless said audiences will see falling snow on stage, along with a beautiful and dynamic set.
One change audiences will see is more lines for the character of Aunt Tilly, who is the wife of Uncle Billy and played by south Charlotte resident Julie Cunnane.
The character of Aunt Tilly only appears as a primary character in two scenes, Cunnane said, but she also appears in the ensemble scenes.
Cunnane was involved in theater growing up and after college, but she took a break after getting married and having children. She returned to the stage for this production because she missed the theater experience and felt the show was a good fit for her. She said her experience with Bayless and the team at Matthews Playhouse has reminded her why she enjoyed theater so much.
“They are amazing at their craft and they make it easy for a person to become involved because everything is so smooth,” Cunnane said. “I’ve been very impressed.”
Bayless directed “It’s A Wonderful Life” two years ago for Matthews Playhouse. She said some of the actors from the past production have returned. Because they were familiar with the show and the roles, Bayless said as a director, she was able to focus more on the acting in the show with the returning cast, rather than the staging.
“I haven’t ever done this before where I’ve used cast members again, and it’s been fabulous,” Bayless said. “They have grown so much since the last time we did it and they are familiar with the parts. This time, they dig deeper into the characters and become more of the characters than they were the last time and enjoy the show and feel the parts … It’s been a deeper experience with the show than before.”
Bayless said she did not have the movie in mind when she cast the show both times. She wanted actors who could play the parts honestly, who looked the part and who could bring the story to life with their acting. She has been impressed by this cast and feels audiences will connect to their performance.
“I hope they have an uplifting, beautiful experience and realize what a difference they make in people’s lives,” Bayless said. “You think you aren’t making a difference, but you really are.”
Cunnane said she hopes audiences take time to pause and reflect while they enjoy the experience of live theater.
“We’re so distracted and split apart that it’s nice to come back and share that shared experience of everyone watching the same show at the same time live, as opposed to being able to download things and watch things at different times,” Cunnane said. “Theater creates that shared experience of watching the show at the same time that your friends and family are sitting there with you or are on stage and so there’s a connection there that you can’t get from watching things separately on your devices.”
Want to watch?
See the show at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13, 14, 20 and 21, as well as 2 p.m. Dec. 15, 21 and 22, at Matthews Community Center. Tickets cost $16 for general admission and $14 for students/seniors. Buy tickets at www.matthewsplayhouse.com.