“It’s a Wonderful Life” tells the story of George Bailey, a selfless man who during his life has given much to his town of Bedford Falls while standing up to the wealthy and cruel Mr. Potter. However, on Christmas Eve when his Uncle Billy misplaces $8,000 from the building and loan business that George’s father left him, he contemplates suicide, thinking that his family and loved ones will better off with him gone. He even exclaims that he should have never been born. In response to the prayers of George’s family and friends, Clarence, George’s guardian angel who has yet to earn his wings, is sent to show George the error of his thinking and what would have been if he hadn’t been a part of the people of Bedford Falls’ lives.
Last year, Amarillo audiences were captivated by the musical version of this beloved holiday classic, which once again will be brought to life this month by Paramount Baptist Church. The production is under the direction of worship pastor, Brent Dyer who says that they began to look at doing “It’s a Wonderful Life” five years ago, yet they never felt that they were prepared to do such a large-scale production.
“Over the last few years, we’ve had some new actors and actresses join our church,” says Brent. “We also had the financial resources we needed, so we decided to try it.”
Their committee began meeting a year before the show to work out costumes, props and sets. In order to produce a show of Broadway-like magnitude, Brent says that it has definitely been a team effort. There are ten people who make up the committee and all of them are skilled, motivated individuals that aren’t afraid to work hard.
“Each person on the committee has their own area of expertise,” he says. “We have a range of people from school teachers to professional production managers to housewives.”
The committee held auditions in the summer of 2009 and this year’s cast is almost exactly the same as last year’s. About 20 new members joined the show this year, a couple of them as lead characters, but most are supporting cast. There are nearly 300 people involved in the production with close to 100 a part of the cast. Rehearsals began in September and occur twice a week, although it is difficult in the midst of daily life to get everyone together.
“It’s a challenge mainly because of dealing with so many schedules,” says Brent. “There are so many families involved and these are all real people, there are no professional actors.”
Although they are not professionals, several of the cast members prepare for the production by taking voice and acting lessons. What also propels them to the Broadway level is the set and props. They were purchased from First Baptist Church, Dallas, and are large scale enough to include roll-ins, as well as fly-ins. The props are very detailed and include a living room scene and a train station. A snow machine and an aqua fogger add help to bring in the feeling of winter. Additionally, the orchestra consists of both church members and symphony performers.
The musical follows the movie close to 95 percent word for word. “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the movie, is a favorite for many at Christmastime and is what brought in such large crowds last year. Feedback from the audience proved to be very positive with people saying it had lived up to expectations, and had, in fact, made people’s jaws drop.
That reaction is exactly what the cast and crew had hoped to hear. There are several reasons for doing this production, Brent says. The church really wants to appeal to the artists of the community and people who love the Arts. Additionally, they want to provide an economical family entertainment alternative during the Christmas season.
“We also want to share the message of hope, redemption and life change,” he says.
Although the cast of “It’s a Wonderful Life” shares the same motivations for doing the production, they also have individual incentives. Dennis Humphrey, who plays George Bailey, says that as the children’s pastor for PBC, his involvement in the production gives him time to be around adults. It helps DeAnna Hurt, who plays Mary Bailey, in much the same way.
“As a stay-at-home mom, this is a good outlet to have,” she says. “I think everyone should have a hobby. This also allows me to get to know the people of the church better.”
When facing the challenge of portraying such iconic personalities such as James Stewart and Donna Reed who play George and Mary Bailey in the 1946 film, Dennis and DeAnna say they try to represent them the best they can, but it is difficult.
“Donna Reed is such a sweet, kind personality,” DeAnna says. “My face hurts from smiling so much but that is who she is and I don’t want to disappoint.”
One aspect that aided the actors with their characters was the costumes. Janet Norton, the costume director, worked extremely hard to make the authentic costumes. She even went as far as finding old sewing patterns from the 40s to make them precisely how they should look.
“She had exact ideas of how a collar or skirt should look,” DeAnna says. “Having the perfect costumes really helps get us into character.”
DeAnna explains that what she most likes about Mary is her unrelenting faith and that she is a witness to George. Her faith never dies and she is constantly praying. Mary doesn’t need things and she is content with what she has.
“I think that is a great message because these days everyone is so materialistic,” she says.
In the story George loses everything, Dennis explains, and at one point even wishes he was never born. Everyone has been there and wondered what would be if they had been someone else or made a different decision. Christmas is either the most wonderful time or the most depressing. Dennis believes that the message of hope is so important because of this reason.
“Everyone out there in the audience, at one time, has been George Bailey,” he says. “If you’re not in that position right now, then look around, it is someone right next to you. You can be Mary to them.”
“It’s a Wonderful Life” is growing into a yearly tradition of yuletide hope and joy. Brent and the cast hope to sell out all six performances this year and have hinted that even though you may have seen it last year, there are some new surprises in store for this season. So be sure to take the time to gather your family during this special time of the year to enjoy this holiday classic.
Performances: December 16 at 7 p.m. December 17 at 7p.m. December 18 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. December 19 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.