'It's a Wonderful Life' 
never grows old
Sunset returns classic with special touches

By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

December 3, 2010

Some of the classic Christmas stories never die. "It's a Wonderful Life" is one of them. Even though the dialogue is a bit dated and the ending a tad schmaltzy, we still love inspirational stories; we like to think that good people get rewarded, and we'd like to believe that someone "up there" is looking out for us. The guardian angel legend still has many takers.

Sunset Playhouse's return to the play that it previously presented three years ago is a testament to its abiding appeal. Though the story is the same, different actors add their special touches to the final effect.

This year, Randall Anderson, Ruth Arnell and Stuart Kendall play key roles as George and Mary Bailey and the greedy Mr. Potter.

Anderson captures the sincerity, the intensity, the compassion and the agonizing soul-searching of George, and Arnell the loving optimism and brightness of Mary, his supportive wife.

Kendall's wicked laugh definitively proves that Potter is the bad guy. Don Callan as bumbling Uncle Billy, Sarah Tullberg as Violet and Richard Wenzel as the guardian angel also make their minor roles memorable.

A large cast of over 30 actors, including many children, also contribute to the recreation of this Christmas story. The costume designer, Ellen Kozak, adds beauty, color and authenticity to the styles of the 1940s. The sound designers, Jan Pritzl and Mark Salentine, also put us back in time.

The set is very flexible and fluid. Using moving flats and projected images, the scene changes are smooth and varied. Michael Desper has worked his magic again. The elevated bridge can also be seen as an out-of-this-world place where one can achieve a different perspective, one where we might see our lives as a whole rather than just its components. It definitely adds a dimension to the stage and to the story.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could see how our lives are affecting the lives of others? This speculation intrigues us and gets us thinking, another value and appeal of this story.

Although it was nominated for five Academy Awards, the 1946 film starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed never received any awards.

However, over the years it has gained in popularity and is now considered one of the top 100 best movies ever made.

Then in 1993, the film was revised for the stage and has been a staple for community theaters ever since.

The Sunset audience loved it. I'm sure you will, too. Directed by Salentine, this is his last production at Sunset and he will be missed.