By JENNIFER LIEBRUM
Express Staff Writer
The idea that re-creating a legendary character means an actor must emulate the standard or completely eliminate the memory to captivate an audience is missing the mark for evocative theater.
When Company of Fools' core actor John Glenn returned to the role of George Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life," a story made indelible by actor Jimmy Stewart in 1946, he said the challenge for him was not to create the identical character, but to tell the story in a way that pays homage to the actor.
And the talk on the street is that Glenn is giving a tear-jerking performance delivered with the twinkle in his eye for which he is well-known in the theater world. He handily conveys ire, irony, compassion and contempt.
"Thank you for sharing that," he said when told of the buzz around his performance. "It's been really fun and interesting and challenging. To be able to explore this story after four years and to reacquaint myself with this fellow George, it's a gift."
The film with Stewart is remembered as a quintessential Frank Capra film. Stewart as George Bailey is a small-town banker driven by circumstances one Christmas Eve to consider suicide, only to be shown by neophyte angel Henry Travers what a difference his life has made. The blockbuster cast included Donna Reed, Thomas Mitchell, Lionel Barrymore and Ward Bond.
In 1996, Joe Landry adapted a version for the stage told as a radio show, which is directed at the Liberty Theatre by core company actor Denise Simone. The story features a stellar ensemble cast that includes Rachel Abrams, Andrew Alburger, Jana Arnold, Greg Cappel, Kathryn Cherasaro, Scott Creighton, Keith Joe Dick and Glenn. Musical direction is by R.L. Rowsey, set design by Joe Lavigne and light design by Steven Koehler.
Glenn said that when they performed the show just prior to the economic downturn, they didn't realize how prophetic the message would become, and that's why it still impacts audiences today.
"It remains such a popular story, it's such a true story of the human condition," Glenn said. "No matter the time of year, we all find ourselves in predicaments in small ways and large ways where we are questioning our worth and whether or not what we are doing is worth it for us to keep going."
The movie was a blend of comedy and drama, and the play has it's own levity beyond the material of the main story because of the addition of the commercials, sound effects and energy required of the radio players bringing the characters to life.
Revisiting the role for Glenn has been an interesting ride.
"Things come back to life in you, you almost have physical memories that your body starts doing and your voice does instead of letting it be what it is right now," he said in that esoteric manner truly thoughtful actors use to explain their transformation. "It's been interesting to release that so that you can find it again. To connect to it today as opposed to three years ago."
The experience of a show within a show is not any harder than any other performance, but the nostalgia and emotion of the role is tiring.
"It does take the wind out of you to put yourself through that time after time, but it's a great experience."
The story will continue from today, Dec. 28, at 7 p.m. through Friday, Dec. 30 at 7 p.m.
"It's a gift for me to put myself in George's shoes and to be shown again that we all have those days that we feel like jumping off that bridge, and we don't, because we all have our own guardian angels to remind us that we are worth it."
See the show
Where: Liberty Theatre, Hailey
When: Tonight, Dec. 28, through Friday, Dec. 30, at 7 p.m.
How: Call 788-6520 or visit www.companyoffools.org. Ten-dollar front-row seats each night one hour prior to performance.