Anyone in need of revved-up holiday spirits should catch Pasadena Theatre Company's It's a Wonderful Life this weekend. Having seen this show several times since 1997, I found this most recent production still enchanting.
The play is based on Frank Capra's 1946 film classic, which starred James Stewart as Bedford Falls banker George Bailey, who discovers that "no man is a failure who has friends."
With the help of his wingless guardian angel, Clarence, a despondent George learns that he has profoundly affected the lives of his friends, co-workers and family.
Directing It's a Wonderful Life for the seventh time, Pasadena Theatre Company President Sharon Steele paces the action well, transitioning seamlessly to flashbacks with minimal dark time by utilizing a simple railing to suggest a bridge, a counter to suggest an office, and a Christmas tree and piano to create a family's living room.
From the opening, with pulsing stars representing God and the angels, to the last scene, in which Stewart's recorded voice is heard reciting the Christmas story, Steele directs with reverent affection.
Set in 1946, a year after the end of World War II, the show evokes nostalgia for the period of hard times and shared beliefs. Re-creating the era is a first-rate cast, several having graced all or some previous Wonderful Life productions.
For the seventh year, theater company veteran Chuck Dick plays the richest man in town, stingy Henry Potter, by projecting a sharp, nasty edge.
Also returning for a seventh time is Anthony Anzalone as pharmacist Mr. Gower, who mistakenly mixes a poisonous prescription for an ill child after learning of his son's death. (A young George Bailey refuses to deliver the prescription.) Anzalone conveys affection for George and the profundity of his tortured feelings.
Marty Hayes' encore as Angel Second-class Clarence is inspired. Stephanie Nevin-Duvall plays Mary Hatch Bailey for the sixth time, putting her stamp on the role of George's wife with elegance and strength.
Douglas Kotula returns to the role of George's brother, Harry, imbuing his character with high energy and warmth.
Linda Swann plays the town vamp, Violet Peterson, with high good humor. And Kristin Mihalcik returns to the role of bank examiner Miss Carter, bringing a blend of imposing strength and warmth.
Returning cast member Keith Thompson is outstanding as George's devoted, bumbling Uncle Billy.
Children in the cast add charm. They include Lyndse Hokanson as the Newspaper Girl, Justin Hilz as Tommy Bailey, Madison Downey as Zuzu Bailey and Marisa Balatico as Janie Bailey.
Performances of It's a Wonderful Life continue this weekend at the Humanities Recital Hall at Anne Arundel Community College at 8 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets may be purchased at the door or reserved by calling 410-975-0200.