‘Won­der­ful Life’ set for de­but at Cap­i­tal Reper­tory The­ater

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - ENTERTAINM­ENT - By Bob Goepfert

AL­BANY, N.Y. >> The hol­i­day sea­son is a time for the tra­di­tional and the fa­mil­iar.

In en­ter­tain­ment there are few things more fa­mil­iar than “It’s a Won­der­ful Life.” The Frank Capra film is beloved and stage adap­ta­tions are pop­u­lar be­cause they are usu­ally faith­ful to the orig­i­nal.

With that in mind, Cap­i­tal Reper­tory The­ater is tak­ing a bit of a risk as it is tin­ker­ing with the work. On Fri­day through Dec. 22, the Al­bany the­ater com­pany is pre­sent­ing “It’s a Won­der­ful Life: Live from WVL Ra­dio The­ater.” It’s per­formed as a ra­dio show.

Don’t worry, it still tells the heart­warm­ing story of how Ge­orge Bailey, a hum­ble man from Bed­ford Falls, who on a des­per­ate Christ­mas Eve, comes to re­al­ize how his seem­ingly in­signif­i­cant life has af­fected so many peo­ple in a pos­i­tive way.

If telling the story as if it were a live ra­dio show isn’t tra­di­tion-break­ing enough, mak­ing it more jar­ring is the story is told us­ing only four ac­tors.

One of those ac­tors is Wynn Har­mon. This is his fifth pro­duc­tion at The Rep, the first dat­ing back to “Dr. Faus­tus,” in 2003. Har­mon is the epit­ome of a “work­ing ac­tor.” His bi­og­ra­phy shows barely a lapse be­tween pro­duc­tions as he seems to be con­stantly per­form­ing some­where.

Though he is a dra­matic ac­tor, he has re­cently been on Broad­way in “Porgy and Bess,” and fre­quently per­forms non-singing roles at Glim­mer­glass Opera in Coop­er­stown and the Na­tional Opera at the Kennedy Cen­ter in Washington, D.C. Those cred­its are listed right next to the works of Shake­speare and con­tem­po­rary play­wrights that he’s done at the Old Globe in San Fran­cisco and other high pro­file the­ater com­pa­nies.

Dur­ing our tele­phone in­ter­view, it be­comes clear that Har­mon sees him­self as more than a gypsy ac­tor mov­ing from town-to-town, the­ater-to-the­ater.

He calls Cap­i­tal Rep one of his fa­vorite places to per­form. “I love work­ing with Mag­gie (Mancinelli-Cahill, Cap Rep’s pro­duc­ing-artis­tic di­rec­tor). “I re­spect her tal­ent and her artis­tic in­tegrity. Be­ing here I feel it is more than a job. There is a sense that the work we do is im­por­tant for the com­mu­nity. (Mag­gie) shares my feel­ing that choos­ing to be to be an artist is to choose a ca­reer of service.”

He ex­plains: “When I was a kid, I loved to read sto­ries. Now that I’m an adult I get to be in the story.” He says he sees the tales told in the­aters as a way of con­nect­ing peo­ple. “When you are on stage there comes a mo­ment when you can feel the au­di­ence be­com­ing in­volved with the story you are telling. You sense them un­der­stand­ing the truth of what is hap­pen­ing and there is a con­nec­tion be­tween ac­tor and au­di­ence.

“It’s al­most like they are say­ing, ‘Tell me more.’ That’s when you know you are in the right pro­fes­sion.”

Har­mon says that the moral lessons within “It’s a Won­der­ful Life” is the kind of sto­ries peo­ple thirst for, es­pe­cially in today’s world. “It’s set the 1940s, but it speaks to our time,” he says.

He is aware that per­form­ing in a beloved work car­ries ad­di­tional re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. “Ev­ery per­son in the film was bril­liant. The more you see it the more you re­al­ize that even the small­est scene is per­fect. Ev­ery time I see it, I dis­cover a new mo­ment.” Mak­ing it per­sonal, he says, “In this pro­duc­tion I play 15 dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters. I have to give all their do.”

He in­sists that telling the story as a ra­dio play per­formed by only four ac­tors is not a gim­mick. Rather, he thinks the con­cept en­riches the ma­te­rial. He points out that the ra­dio sta­tion is in fi­nan­cial trou­ble, just like the rest of the coun­try in the 1940s. “It sup­ports the des­per­a­tion of the times and height­ens the ten­sion the char­ac­ters are go­ing through.”

Ham­mond finds spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance in an­other plot point. He ex­plains, “There is a bl­iz­zard the night of the broad­cast preventing most of the pro­fes­sional ac­tors from get­ting to sta­tion. “Only two pro­fes­sion­als are in the stu­dio, so two peo­ple from the sta­tion’s staff are thrust into per­form­ing.

Four peo­ple must plays al­most four dozen char­ac­ters. It’s kind of mirac­u­lous, as they find within them­selves undis­cov­ered abil­i­ties. They sal­vage suc­cess from what could have been a dis­as­ter.”

Their ex­pe­ri­ence par­al­lels Ge­orge’s jour­ney, he says. “They find worth in serv­ing.”

He says his goal, first and fore­most, is that the au­di­ence en­joy them­selves. He is con­fi­dent that the ma­te­rial, the clever stag­ing and the tal­ent of the cast will ac­com­plish that mis­sion.

How­ever, he has greater hopes for those who ex­pe­ri­ence the pro­duc­tion. “The ma­te­rial cel­e­brates the won­der of life. It’s about the in­ter­ac­tion of a com­mu­nity of peo­ple who make won­der hap­pen. I want the au­di­ence to leave with a sense of grat­i­tude about be­ing alive and ap­pre­ci­at­ing the won­der of life.”

“A Won­der­ful Life: Live from WVL Ra­dio Theatre” at Cap­i­tal Reper­tory Theatre, Nov. 22-Dec. 22. For tick­ets and sched­ule in­for­ma­tion (518) 445-7469 or go to cap­i­tal­rep.org

RICHARD LOVRICH PHOTO RICHARD LOVRICH PHOTO

From left: Wynn Har­mon, El­iz­a­beth Nestlerode, Carl How­ell and Lau­rie Wells in “It’s a Won­der­ful Life: Live from WVL Ra­dio The­ater.” Wynn Har­mon in “It’s a Won­der­ful Life: Live from WVL Ra­dio The­ater.”

RICHARD LOVRICH PHOTO

Josh D. Smith in “It’s a Won­der­ful Life: Live from WVL Ra­dio The­ater.”

RICHARD LOVRICH PHOTO

Carl How­ell and El­iz­a­beth Nestlerode in “It’s a Won­der­ful Life: Live from WVL Ra­dio The­ater.”

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