WELCOME GEORGE- Actors rehearse a scene from It’s a Wonderful Life: The Live Radio Drama at the Matchbox Theatre to prepare for their Dec. 9 opening.

Fresh production of Christmas classic hits local stage

Ignition Theatre is bringing a new vision of a classic Christmas drama to the stage for its Holiday Celebration Series.

It’s a Wonderful Life: The Live Radio Drama was an audience favourite last year.

“There was never any question we wanted to make this production a part of our annual holiday programming,” says Ignition Theatre’s artistic director, Matt Grue. “The question was how to keep it fresh and new.”

The inspirational story, based on the classic American film, is set in 1949. On the verge of suicide on Christmas Eve, George Bailey (Ryan Matilla) meets a guardian angel (Grue) who gives the man a chance to see what the world would be like without him. His despair turns into an appreciation for his truly wonderful life as he gets a glimpse of how he has touched people in his community.

The actors, including Chantel Hutchison, Paul Boultbee, and Greg Shannon, recreate the glamour of old Hollywood as they bring the live-radio production to a 1940s Matchbox Theatre.

Audiences will feel as though they stepped onto the set of the Academy Awards at the time says director Jeremy Robinson. “Expect a big show.”

Beyond the glitz and extravagance, Robinson says the show explores the darker aspects of the story. He wanted this year’s staging of the play to be more in tune with the film, which profoundly impacted him as a child.

Robinson also cites Jimmy Stewart’s performance in the original film as one of the reasons he wanted to be involved in theatre.

“It was the first time I saw a film depicting that life isn’t really perfect,” he says. “In order to make everyone feel good at the end of the show, we need to explore that darkness.”

As he prepared to direct, Robinson wanted to uncover the reason he was so affected by the film and draw that type of emotion out of the actors in the play. The cast of 16 recreates more than 40 roles and Robinson has enjoyed the challenge of balancing a large cast, and the tension of faithfully telling a much loved story while keeping it fresh in his first ever attempt at directing what he calls a “spectacle.”

Although this year’s production has undergone a dramatic redesign and conceptual changes, audiences can expect the same “quality and heart of last year’s production” assures Grue.

For Robinson there is a reason audiences continually return to this particular story at this time of the year.

“It’s all about that disappointment people feel in their lives, that moment when it feels it’s all been for nothing and then finding that silver lining… discovering why it’s all worth it.” In difficult times, he believes that message of hope really resonates.

It’s A Wonderful Life: The Live Radio Drama runs Dec. 9-11 and 14-18 at 7:30 p.m. with a special 2 p.m. matinee on Dec. 12th. The production is Ignition Theatre’s major annual fundraiser.

Tickets are $22 for adults and $18 for students and seniors.

Group rates are available exclusively at The Matchbox Box Office by phone 403-341-6500 or online at www.ignitiontheatre.ca.

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