Nov. 23 2011 12:00 AM

Williamston Theatre revives a holiday hit


John Lepard says he first discovered “It’s a Wonderful
Life” when he was about 20. Little did he know at the time he’d one day
be spending the holidays in Bedford Falls himself.

Lepard and director Tony Caselli are reviving their 2009
success “This Wonderful Life” (for which Lepard won the Pulsar Award as
best actor in a play and the show won best play) at Williamston
Theatre, beginning Friday.

“I was probably 20 years old when I first saw the movie,”
Lepard said. “It was not one of the things my family regularly watched.
But once I saw it, I loved it and I started watching it every year.”

When he was working on a production of “The Member of the
Wedding” in Washington, Lepard made numerous trips to the Library of
Congress, which has a copy of Philip Van Doren Stern’s “The Greatest
Gift,” the short story that inspired director Frank Capra’s film about
a distraught small-town building and loan officer who gets to see what
the world would have looked like had he not been born.

“I started writing a stage version of ‘It’s a Wonderful
Life,’ and I brought it to Tony,” Lepard said. “He said, ‘This is great
— but we’d need 18 people to play all these parts.’ So he went looking
for another script, and that’s when he found this one.”

Steve Murray’s stage adaptation of “Life” is a one-act,
one-man show, which tells the story through the words of George Bailey,
who speaks for everyone else, including his understanding wife, Mary,
and his arch-nemesis, the money-grubbing Mr. Potter. Lepard says it’s a
lot of fun and a bit of a challenge.

“There’s nobody to bail you out, that’s for sure,” he
said. “If you screw up, you’re screwed up. You don’t want to get Mary
and Mr. Potter mixed up; that’s embarrassing.”

Although Lepard and Caselli are making a few minor
changes for the revival, they’re also looking at what worked the first
time, via a tape of the original production.

“It’s the weirdest thing, watching myself from two years ago: ‘Is that what I did there?’” Lepard said.

Does the voice of James Stewart, who played George Bailey
in the movie, ring in Lepard’s ears? “Not really,” Lepard said.
“Sometimes my problem is that I sound like him anyway.”