Paul Varga, right, with co-star Jill Barnes in It's a Wonderful Life
Paul Varga wasn’t intending on being in a Christmas play this year.
Scrooge. No thanks.
The Grinch. Maybe next year.
Miracle on 34th Street. I’ll take a rain cheque.
It’s A Wonderful Life. Now we’re talking.
The play, based on the beloved Frank Capra movie, stars Varga in the pivotal role of George Bailey. Varga, a local attorney and occasional performer in Many Hats productions, said his all-time favourite film is indeed It’s A Wonderful Life set in the town of Bedford Falls, New York.
“It’s Christmas,” he said when asked about his love of the film.
“It’s the rebirth of a man’s soul. George believes in everybody else except for himself. He’s in a crisis with a lack of faith and in the end he comes out of it. It’s not such a bad thing being in a small town with people who love and care about you, especially during the holidays.”
Varga expects that fans of the movie will immediately love the play which is being produced by St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church and Acting Classes by Jacqueline.
Varga, who can recite the dialogue to his favourite movie, describes the story and script of the play as “pretty darn close” to the original movie.
Being on stage, there are limitations.
“It’s similar but not identical. Anyone who loves Christmas will want to see this play,” Varga explained during Wednesday evening’s rehearsal. “It’s Christmas and you can’t have Christmas without watching It’s A Wonderful Life... at least once!”
Director Lori Dunn said due to cast availablity, they switched genders for a handful of characters. Clarence is now Clara and Uncle Billy is now Aunt Willie. With the
exception of Varga and three others, the 15 cast members all have multiple roles.
“This is a pereneal Christmas classic and it’s guaranteed to instill the Christmas spirit,” Dunn promises. “We have a great cast, it’s wonderful material and the church is investing in professional lighting for this event.”
So convinced the play will be a hit with audiences in the South Okanagan, Dunn has ordered a second weekend of performances.
Varga was last seen on a Penticton stage in Same Time Next Year as the male lead.
It’s A Wonderful Life was released theatrically in December 1946 to a lukewarm reception. It still managed five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor (Jimmy Stewart), but lost in every major category to The Best Years of Our Lives. With time it gained more popularity and is now ranked the 11th greatest film of all-time in the latest poll by the American Film Institute.
The play also stars Cal Meiklejohn (Henry), Kathie Hemmingson (Clara), Ted Morrison (Bert), Christa Phillips (Aunt Willie), Cameron Baughen (Harry), Jill Barnes (Mary), Barbara Johnson (Mother Bailey), Jordana Fratianni (Violet Bick) and Dawn Renaud (Tilly).
The play also features four young performers — Nikolas Filipovic, Jera Nichols, Lily Eggert and Levina Nelson.
Acting teacher Jacqueline Koenig, who Dunn describes as “an awesome right-hand woman” is stage manager and assistant director. Other behind-the-scenes people
include Dawn Renaud on props; sound designers Morrison and Dale Fleming;
lighting designers Koenig and Conrad Burek and costumer Pam Ehrecke.
It’s A Wonderful Life will be performed at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church on Dec. 7, 8, 14 and 15 with Saturday shows at 7 p.m.. and Sunday performances at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Tickets are $20 (adults) and $15 (students and seniors) and are available at The Dragon’s Den on Front Street.