Alone for Christmas

By Chris Parks

Williamston pits one man against 'Wonderful Life'

With a new twist on a beloved classic, Williamston Theatre brings some holiday cheer to the stage this winter with “This Wonderful Life.”

The Steve Murray play is an adaptation of the 1946 Jimmy Stewart film “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and marks the Michigan premiere of the show. While director Tony Caselli said there are many theatrical versions of the film, the Williamston Theatre chose a decidedly singular adaptation. “Most of them have full casts,” he said. “This one is a one-man version.”

Taking on every role in the one-man show is John Lepard, who also doubles as Williamston’s executive director. Caselli said Lepard was the perfect man for the part (or parts, as he takes on multiple roles throughout the performance).

“Audiences love him; he’s one of the people I want to put on stage every year,” Caselli said. “It’s a perfect role for him, and I think people are just going to love him in it.”

Caselli said there is “a little bit of magic” in watching the story unfold from just one person, and he called the transformations Lepard goes through during the performance “amazing.”

The play follows the same general storyline as the film, featuring the memorable characters of George Bailey, Mr. Potter and more, as well as the iconic Christmas Eve bridge scene, all shown through the performance of a single actor.

“One of the things that attracted me was I really like the combination of narration and scenes and dialogue,” Caselli said. “There’s a wonderful blend between the actor and audience.”

Despite “This Wonderful Life” being a rendition of a movie watched by people every year around the holidays, Caselli doesn’t feel that familiarity with the story will keep people from wanting to experience it in a new way.
“The way it’s told, you don’t have to have seen the movie, and you can still love the play,” he said, adding that while there were a few creative changes made, all the memorable moments are there for the people who know and love the film.

Ultimately, Caselli said the performance provides a warm family experience at the perfect time of year. “It really is a classic; there’s so much tradition and nostalgia and warmth. It’s definitely a feel-good story.”

This Wonderful Life'
By Steve Murray
Through Dec. 20
3 p.m. pay-what-you-can matinee on Friday, Nov. 27
All other shows:
8 p.m. Thursday & Friday
3 p.m. & 8 p.m. Saturday
2 p.m. Sunday
Williamston Theatre, 122 S. Putnam St., Williamston
(517) 655-SHOW

You get what you need

A dog, a donkey, a cat and a rooster walk into town. It may sound like the set up to one of your grandfather’s jokes, but it’s actually the plot of children’s play “The Bremen Town Musicians,” opening at Riverwalk Theatre this weekend.

The Stan Gill musical tells the story of four animals past their prime who set out for the town of Bremen to fulfill their dreams of becoming street musicians.

Director Ann Glenn said the play is an interactive chance for children to get into theater. “The actors run through the audience, [the kids] get to yell back at the stage. With live theater there is more of a sense of interaction," she said.

“The Bremen Town Musicians” is aimed at children, but Glenn said she hopes it’s a play that parents can enjoy just as much as their kids.

Glenn, who has starred in multiple children’s plays, said the story was one of her favorite fairy tales growing up, and she is “shocked” by how many people have never heard it.

As fun and entertaining as it’s meant to be, the play still has a few underlying lessons in store for viewers. “It’s about following your dreams and sticking together,” Glenn said. “You might not always get where you intend to, but you may get to where you need to be.”

“The Bremen Town Musicians,” by Stan Gill. 7 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. & 4:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday through Dec. 6. Riverwalk Theatre, 228 Museum Drive, Lansing. $5/$7. (517) 482-5700.