The classic story of George Bailey and his time-traveling guardian angel comes to the stage in the opera “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
“It’s a Wonderful Life” premiered Nov. 10 and runs to Nov. 17 at the Musical Arts Center. Tickets start at $12 for students.
Based on the story of the 1946 holiday classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life” frames the story through the eyes of George Bailey’s guardian angel, Clara. When George contemplates suicide on the edge of a bridge on Christmas Eve, Clara appears and goes through a series of flashbacks that reveal how George’s life led to that moment.
“The themes revolve around losing your dreams and the beauty of life, no matter what happens to your dreams,” said Edward Atkinson, the actor playing George Bailey and grad student studying vocal performance. “Life is still beautiful.”
In the early stages of the opera, George prepares to leave for college. He has dreams of seeing the Colosseum, the Parthenon and traveling to cities like Paris or Rome. However, he postpones his plans for education and adventure to take over his family business after hearing of his father’s death.
“It deals with having dreams and not seeing them come to fruition in the way you thought they would,” Atkinson said. “His dreams are crushed by his circumstances.”
Mirrored doors are scattered throughout the stage, each one representing different moments in George’s life. One door reveals a moment from 1916, where George saves his brother Harry from drowning in a frozen pond. Another door reveals a night in 1925 when he has a romantic encounter with Mary, who had been in love with him since childhood.
“It’s visually so arresting, there are surprises around every corner,” said Anne Slovin, the actress playing Clara and grad student studying vocal performance. “The set does stuff you wouldn’t expect it to do.”
The opera revolves not only around George Bailey, but also his conflict with the local banker Henry F. Potter. Harry’s orientation towards profit and exploitation are contrasted by George’s philanthropy and interest in providing home ownership for the homeless.
Throughout the opera there are numbers inspired by early 20th century musical styles. Many of them call back to particular dance styles, such as ragtime and blues, Slovin said.
“There are a lot of elements of ragtime, we’ve got jazz, we’ve got charleston,” Slovin said. “There’s a really wonderful patriotic hymn they wrote for the World War II sequence. All kinds of different American styles of dance music.”
Anyone who loves the film, loves Christmas or loves the holiday season should see the opera, Atkinson said.
“It gives this really easy to follow thread throughout the whole opera, but what it also does is it lets you see the movie in a whole new way,” Atkinson said. "It’s like taking a diamond and shifting it fifteen degrees."
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