Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010

A Miracle in Racine, A Wonderful Life At Sunset

Capra to the West, Seaton to the South—Cinematic Stage Adaptations Just Outside Milwaukee

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Randall Anderson—An Elm Grove George BaileyRuth Arnell—the show’s Mary Hatch with four kids in rehearsal

 

In 1946, RKO released possibly the only film ever to be based on a Christmas card. The short story The Greatest Gift, which appeared only in 200 Christmas cards the author sent to friends and family in the early ‘40’s. A film producer heard the story, resulting in a 1946 Frank Capra film It’s A Wonderful Life. Years ago the film was adapted into a stage play, which is now being produced in what will hopefully be the first of many annual December productions of the show with The Sunset Playhouse.

The show is exiting Sunset Artistic Director Mark Salentine’s last show before the Sunset eliminates the position of Artistic Director altogether. It stars Randall T. Anderson as George Bailey. A frequent ensemble member of the retro radio outfit Wisconsin Hybrid Theatre, Anderson has a stage presence that feels very much like a classy 1930’s or ‘40’s leading male type. His distinct kind of charisma may seem a bit disorienting to those so familiar with the Jimmy Stewart in the role in phosphor dot TV memories that have built-up over the decades, but it should be a lot of fun to see Anderson in this role. Playing Donna Reed to Anderson’s Stewart is the endlessly charming Ruth Arnell. Arnell’s fun in any role, but it should be quite a lot of fun seeing her take on such an iconic holiday role.

The Sunset Playhouse’s production of It’s A Wonderful Life runs November 24th through December 19th at the Sunset Playhouse.

It seems a bit quaint to think of anyone worried about the commercialization of the holidays (or anything else for that matter) as far back as the mid-1940’s. In an era before viral marketing, the internet and the widespread sociological penetration of television, there were people concerned about the holiday culture that had been developing for years. Author Valentine Smith wrote a novel about an actual Santa becoming a Macy’s Santa was likely not quite the hit it would become onscreen—and later-on through decades and decades of TV airings. A Miracle On 34th Street is on par with It’s A Wonderful Life in the cultural consciousness of the country. This year, the Racine Theatre Guild presents a staging of the heartwarming look at the emotional center beyond the commercialization of Christmas, generously sponsored, apparently, by In sink erator. (Normally wouldn’t mention a sponsor, but it just sounds so weird to me . . . ) The story has been adapted from the original by Will Severin, Patricia Di Benedetto Snyder & John Vreeke, There’s a production of the script currently being staged in Chicago, but thanks to Racine Theatre Guild, local theatergoers who want to see a live performance of the classic story don’t have to go quite so far south.

The Racine Theatre Guild’s A Miracle on 34th Street runs December 10th – 19th.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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