LAKEWOOD — This December will mark a number of firsts for the Lakewood High School Drama group — their first holiday play, which is also their first staging of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the first time that many of the high school actors have worked with younger actors onstage, and some unique casting for a few of the main characters.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” takes to the LHS stage at 7 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 7, and Saturday, Dec. 8, as well as on the following Friday and Saturday, Dec. 14-15, with nearly two dozen high school actors, two middle school actors and two elementary school actors, after LHS Drama teacher Rebecca White was inspired last spring to put on something appropriate for the winter festivities that could also accommodate the larger cast size that’s typical of the school’s fall and winter plays. In order to meet the ratio of male to female actors, however, some characters got noticeable makeovers.
While junior Bryce Shepard and senior Alethea Cody are playing George and Mary Bailey, fellow senior Brianna Winegar is playing wheelchair-bound rich villain Mr. Potter as “Ms. Potter,” just as junior Kaley Trapp plays the angel Clarence as “Clarisse.”
“She’s obviously younger than Lionel Barrymore, but I also try to play her more classy and sneaky,” Winegar said of her role. “She doesn’t just straight-up hate everyone else, but she wants to own everything they have.”
To distinguish Ms. Potter visually, Winegar dons more elegant-looking furs.
Trapp likewise acknowledged that Clarisse is much younger than Clarence, but she still plays the character as old enough to be matronly, albeit in an intentionally comic fashion.
While Shepard and Cody’s takes on George and Mary are not nearly as far removed from the original versions of the characters, the young actors still felt compelled to create their own takes, rather than merely imitating Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed.
“I think Bryce plays George as more confused, while Jimmy Stewart was more shocked,” White said. “With Bryce, there’s always this, ‘What’s going on?’”
Cody enjoyed working with the younger actors who play George and Mary’s children, which includes Cody’s younger sister, and she found the coordination of the “Buffalo Gals” sequence to be challenging yet rewarding.
“Donna Reed’s Mary is more sweet and lets other people influence her a bit more,” Cody said. “I try to make Mary a bit stronger and more influential over others.”
“The biggest challenge for me is just being on the stage almost non-stop for two hours,” Shepard said of his role. “That’s also the fun part, though.”
While Winegar’s blocking in her wheelchair has posed some problems, her enthusiasm for finally playing a villain has made it all worthwhile to her.
The bustling cast has been rehearsing since the first week of October, after auditions late in September, and the actors have found themselves averaging a dozen hours of work a week on the play, whose extensive set design includes a house, a bridge, an office, a porch and a cemetery.
“I’ve always loved the movie, so it just seemed natural to bring it to life,” White said.
The Saturday, Dec. 15, showing will be a dinner theater. General admission is $7, while seniors, children aged 3-10 years and students with ASB will pay $5. Children aged 2 years and younger will be admitted for free. For more information, email White at firstname.lastname@example.org.