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Ignition Theatre’s It’s a Wonderful Life is a ‘must see’ holiday treat

Shows run until Dec. 15th at Red Deer’s Nickle Studio

Ignition Theatre’s current production of the classic It’s a Wonderful Life is, without a doubt, one on those ‘can’t miss’ holiday shows.

The show ran about three times several years back, and is a welcome holiday offering that is slated to run until Dec. 15th in the Nickle Studio (located in the Memorial Centre).

Curtain is at 7:30 p.m.

Directed by Dustin S. Lawrence and adapted by Tony Palermo, the show features a stellar cast who bring the compelling and engaging production to life.

A film version of It’s a Wonderful Life was released in 1946 starring Jimmy Stewart in the lead role. It was based on the short story and booklet The Greatest Gift which was written by Philip Van Doren in 1939.

Most would be familiar with the storyline – the generous and good-hearted George Bailey never quite makes it out of his hometown to pursue bigger and better things.

He marries and has a family but lands in the family business he’s tried so hard to extricate himself from. Dream after dream has gone unpursued, but he carries on as a responsible, kind citizen who is constantly putting other’s needs before his own.

Suddenly things turn truly desperate in his business, and facing unbearable hardship, he considers taking his own life.

Enter Clara the guardian angel, sent to save George and by doing so, earn her wings.

Clara shows George what his hometown would be like had he never been born, and it’s just miserable. George has no idea the powerful impact for good that he’s had on so many lives.

After this revelation, he’s renewed, reinvigorated and filled with gratitude.

Running at the Nickle Studio through to Dec. 16th, this terrifically-rendered interpretation showcases one of the finest ensemble casts I’ve ever seen in all my years reviewing local plays.

First of all, can we talk about Ryan Mattila in the lead role of the worn-down, beleaguered George Bailey?

I’ve seen Mattila in many shows over the years and not once, not ever, has he failed to nail each and every role he’s tackled.

I know, this perhaps sounds like an exaggeration.

But there’s something absolutely extraordinary about his ability to inject so much heart, humour, power and poignancy into performance after performance.

I also can’t think of a better actor to play George Bailey. Mattila simply ‘is’ George Bailey, and the stark emotional levels he conquers in this moving portrayal are frankly hard to describe or capture in words. ‘Mesmerizing’ might come close.

Everyone else knocks it out of the park as well.

Debby Allan is always completely charming and so funny, and as Clara the angel, she’s just spot on at every turn.

There aren’t many who have the irresistible likability that Allan exudes, or the charisma that she effortlessly brings to her roles time and again.

She’s a delight to watch from the play’s start all the way through.

Much of the other cast plays multiple parts to perfection, particularly Tara Rorke, Craig Scott, Paul Boultbee, Perry Mill and Carla Falk. Suzanne Hermary is also the warm-hearted, perfect Mary Hatch and eventual devoted wife to George.

And the always entertaining Keith Ainscough makes for an outstanding ‘boss’ of the angels department up in heaven.

Congratulations must go of course go to director Dustin S. Lawrence, who has masterfully brought it all together so well.

The show, divided into three parts, flows along at a brisk but comfortable pace.

And as a ‘radio drama’ it’s an engaging and refreshing take on what has become a hugely popular Christmastime movie tradition. You find your imagination kicking in as the actors utilize their exceptional vocal talents to breathe life into the legendary story.

The Nickle Studio, although small, actually works really well for this production with a comfortable, spread out cabaret seating arrangement as well.

Ignition Theatre staged this show several times years back, and it always sparkled, but I don’t remember being as affected as I was this time around. Kudos to all involved for providing Red Deer and Central Alberta with such a rich, joyful and very meaningful holiday offering.

I hope that It’s a Wonderful Life becomes a holiday tradition in the City, and receives the solid community support that it – and so much of what unfolds on our Red Deer stages – deserves.

Tickets are available at the door or by visiting www.ignitiontheatre.ca.

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