George Bailey’s Story Touches Hearts in Next Gen’s Tech-Savvy Show

By Connie Bollinger
Contributing Writer
“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a well-known redemption story, a decades-old peek into the soul of an ordinary man whose everyday acts of sacrifice and kindness enrich the lives of everyone around him.

When a financial discrepancy threatens to send George Bailey to prison, he ends up on a snowy bridge on Christmas Eve seriously contemplating suicide. George offers a desperate prayer whose answer comes in the form of a funny little angel named Clarence. Clarence allows George to see what life would really be without him. It’s a grim and unpleasant revelation.

Next Generation Theatre Company has selected one of the screen-to-stage adaptations of Frank Capra’s 1946 classic to perform the weekend before Christmas

The tech behind this production is wonderful. Set designer Brian Ebbinghaus has taken a seemingly impossible jumble of locations; bridges, offices, George’s house, and other Bedford Falls locales, and made them all simple, mobile and beautifully realized.

The lighting design by Morgan Brennen runs the gamut from dazzling to creepily moody. Sound by Jon Ziekle was blessedly seamless — not one squeaking microphone or static blast. The only tech problem seemed to be an overly zealous fog machine which was handled pre-performance.

The large cast didn’t seem to have much direction, and although every one of them knew their lines and blocking to perfection, most of the characters seemed flat and tense. However, some performances stood out. Aaron Mermelstein was engaging as Clarence, enthusiastically meddling in George’s life, Jack Connors was properly odious as Mr. Potter, the town villain, and Bridget Caldwell, whose pirouettes and plies were gorgeous, playing Janie Bailey.

The theatre is spacious and lovely, the Christmas Spirit is sitting on your shoulder so relax and let the Christmas magic take you to a world where wishes come true and people help one another and “no man is a failure who has friends.”

“It’s A Wonderful Life” is presented Dec. 21-23 at the Florissant Civic Center┬áTheatre at Parker and Waterford in Florissant, with Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. For more information or tickets, call 314-921-5678 or visit www.nextgenerationtheatre.company.

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