If you have fond memories of the movie It's a Wonderful Life (1946), you are sure to relish the theater adaptation now running at Act II Playhouse in Ambler. Full of insider jokes and amiable ribbing, This Wonderful Life counts on your having an affectionate knowledge of the holiday classic.
Tony Braithwaite directs and performs the 75-minute show, which is played without intermission. It would surprise me if Braithwaite, already a 13-time Barrymore nominee, did not win still another nomination for his tour-de-force performance here.
When playwright Steve Murray rewrote the Frank Capra movie for stage, he turned it into a one-man show. The script alights on every key moment of the original, forcing the actor to play more than 30 characters.
Braithwaite is up to the challenge. In the role of George, he perfectly captures the charm of Jimmy Stewart's distinctive accent along with a droll version of Lionel Barrymore as creepy capitalist Mr. Potter. Your memory is jogged further as Braithwaite touches on all minor characters - Mr. Gower, Bert and Ernie, Mary (the good girl), and Violet (the bad girl).
Several stools and a small house porch are put to multiple uses, while lights play off a darkened rear screen to create the celestial world of Clarence, guardian angel second class. Always donning a three-piece suit and big bow tie, Braithwaite cuts a puckish figure.
Wonderful flashes a serious side when Angel Clarence shows George what life in Bedford Falls would be like had George never lived. The episode has something in common with the moral that ends the medieval classic Everyman, where the central character learns only his good deeds survive his death.
But this show is largely playful, giving Braithwaite lots of chances to make colorful asides. He tosses in production details about the movie (Cary Grant was first slated to play George.) He pokes fun at its ethnic stereotypes and howls at hokey script elements - a bank audit on Christmas eve? Seriously?
Yet Wonderful is too free of ill will to be a send-up. You relive the movie as though you were remembering a beloved, eccentric uncle who has died but will always live on in your heart.
This Wonderful Life
Through Dec. 24 at
Act II Playhouse,
56 E. Butler Ave., Ambler.
Tickets: Sold out; contact box office for late availability. Information: 215-654-0200 or act2.org