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Posted on Fri. Nov. 23, 2012 - 12:01 am EDT

Different roads lead to ‘Wonderful Life’

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If you go

What: “It’s a Wonderful Life”

Where: First Presbyterian Theater, 300 W. Wayne St.

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, 7, 8, 14, and 15; 2 p.m. Dec. 2, 9 and 16

Admission: Tickets, from $10 to $24, are available by calling 422-6329.

Special event: There will be a dinner show Nov. 30. Tickets are $28 to $30.

“This is George Bailey! Don’t you know me?”

George is pretty agitated when he asks this of Mr. Gower in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” but he’d feel even worse if he had to ask it of the audience.

Such are the challenges of producing a play based on a popular Christmas movie.

Luckily, First Presbyterian Theater’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life” looks to be in good hands.

Laurence Brown and Naomi Eddy play George and Mary Bailey, roles made famous in the film by Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed.

Both are recent transplants to the area, although Brown had to travel farther.

Until recently, Brown was a resident of Anderson, but he grew up in the seaport of Grimsby in Lincolnshire, England. He moved to the U.S. for job prospects and love, not necessarily in that order.

Brown says “It’s a Wonderful Life” never attained the cult status in the U.K. that it has in the States.

In fact, he didn’t see the film until he jumped the 1 million-square-kilometer body of water commonly referred to as “the pond.”

He says he elected not to watch the film again after he was cast as George.

“It would be difficult to watch the film and not be awestruck” by Stewart’s performance, he says.

Eddy, on the other hand, grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and calls “It’s a Wonderful Life” her favorite Christmas movie.

So great is her devotion to the film that she assumed she would be disqualified for the role of Mary on a cosmetic technicality.

“I am surprised that they cast me,” the blonde-headed Eddy says. “I thought they’d have to cast someone with brown hair.”

The key to a stage production of “It’s A Wonderful Life” that is as satisfying for actors as it is for audiences, Brown says, is the involvement of a director like First Presbyterian Theater chief Thom Hofrichter.

Hofrichter knows how to simultaneously honor the actors and the source material, he says.

While the source material is not as iconic in England as it is here, Brown says there are elements that appeal equally to both cultures.

“The story itself certainly has a lot of universal values,” he says. “The whole town, except Potter, has such compassion for (George).”

Brown, who has first-hand experience of the global economic downturn, as do many of us, says the struggles of the residents of Bedford Falls find parallels in the “times we are living in now.”

As for the American accent that Brown was required to master as George, Brown says he grew up mastering it as a consequence of mastering American television.

“In England, we were inundated with American TV,” he says. “ ‘A-Team,’ ‘Quantum Leap.’ ”

Eddy says Brown can turn the accent “on and off real fast.”

Brown says he avoids doing anything as George that smacks of impersonation, but “there are times when I am saying my lines and think, ‘Oh my gosh. That did sound like (Stewart).’ So far, no one has pointed that out.”

Just as Shakespeare devotees go to the theater with certain expectations, Eddy says, fans of “It’s a Wonderful Life” will walk from this production with what they expected to find there: “A warm fuzzy feeling.”

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