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There once was a time during December, before the days of Hulu and other streaming services, that one could turn on the television any time day or night and at least one channel would be showing “It’s A Wonderful Life.” If memory serves, one station dedicated itself to playing the 1946 Frank Capra Christmas classic 24/7.
Mike Anthony must have been glued to that station like candy stuck on a gingerbread house.
The actor is currently starring as George Bailey, Mr. Potter, Mary Hatch, Clarence the Angel and all the other beloved residents of Bedford Falls in Theater at Monmouth’s one-man production “This Wonderful Life,” directed by Dawn McAndrews.
The show opens with Anthony in a single spotlight giving a frenetic five-minute recap of the film. He explains how George Bailey goes from boyhood to marriage to savings and loan manager to desperate man ready to give up on “God’s gift” until Clarence, a second class angel without wings, steps in to show George what life would be like if he never existed in the first place. That’s the story of “It’s A Wonderful Life” in a nutshell, but this is the play “This Wonderful Life,” written by Steve Murray and conceived by Mark Setlock.
Here, Anthony is not re-enacting the movie, although whole scenes of dialogue are lifted word for word from the original. In this delightful show, he’s more a cross between the movie’s biggest fan and a storyteller who shares the movie’s memorable moments by acting them out while adding his own hilarious asides and narrative context to the plot. Switching easily from credibly mimicking Jimmy Stewart and Lionel Barrymore to an obviously less passable Donna Reed, the versatile actor proceeds to perform nearly the entire film (with full cast) condensed to roughly 90 minutes of the best bits.
Breaking the fourth wall often in ways that tone down the melodrama and add important modern context to 1946 cultural norms that didn’t age well, Anthony’s comedic commentary and physical humor freshens the classic and lightens this rather serious but heartwarming inspirational tale.
Dare I say? It’s a wonderful show.
“This Wonderful Life” is playing at Theater at Monmouth through December 8. Take a break from the craziness of the holidays, pull the kids away from their screens, and take a drive to the beautiful Cumston Theater in Monmouth to see this live one-man performance, the final show of TAM’s 50th season. For more information, call 207-933-9999 or visit theateratmonmouth.org.