Frank Capra’s beloved film about family, love, and redemption began its life as a short story called The Greatest Gift, written in 1939 by Philip Van Doren Stern. After little success getting the story published, Stern turned it into a Christmas card and mailed it to 200 of his friends in the Christmas of 1943. This card came to the attention of Hollywood, and was first optioned as a vehicle for Cary Grant before ending up at Frank Capra’s production company, Liberty Films, in 1945.
Contrary to popular belief, the film was not a ‘flop.’ In fact, it was the 26th highest-grossing film of 1947 and was nominated for five Academy Awards. It is true that the movie did not garner universally positive reviews and was dismissed by many as being overly sentimental (when it was not being reported to the FBI as communist propaganda for its portrayal of bankers as ‘evil’). However, in the years afterward, the movie and its rights were sold and due to a clerical error in 1974, its copyrights were not properly renewed. This is part of what led to it becoming a ubiquitous holiday staple throughout the 1970s and ’80s. With no rights to pay, stations could play the film over and over again! (Since then, the copyright has been reasserted through the copyright of the original story, which never lapsed.)
The movie is now acknowledged as one of the greatest films ever made. Among other honours, it has been selected for preservation by the Library of Congress and was chosen the “Top Inspirational Film” of all time by The American Film Institute. “It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen,” Capra told The Wall Street Journal in 1984. “The film has a life of its own now and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I’m proud… but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.”
Have a look at the original movie trailer!
Following in the film’s footsteps, our stage version of It’s a Wonderful Life has also taken on a life of its own. The Arts Club commissioned the script from Philip Grecian after the success of his adaptation of A Christmas Story at the Granville Island Stage in 2006. Director Dean Paul Gibson then came in to implement a truly innovative blend of the cinematic and theatrical, bringing projection designer Jamie Nesbitt on board to create projections using portions of the film. This blend of stage and film was instrumental to the production’s success. Peter Birnie of The Vancouver Sun said of that first production, “Dean Paul Gibson’s interpretation of It’s a Wonderful Life… is so finely attuned to the emotional strengths of the film that this sweet theatrical tribute tugs at the heartstrings with all the ease of the original.” The first run of the show sold out quickly, with demand high for us to bring back the production a second time. Now in its third incarnation, It’s a Wonderful Life has quickly become a holiday tradition.
This year’s cast says good-bye to our original George Bailey, Todd Talbot, who has moved over to the Stanley to play the Danny Kaye role in White Christmas—bet you didn’t know George Bailey could sing and dance! Taking over the role is Vancouver theatrical darling Bob Frazer, fresh from his summer playing Iago in Bard on the Beach’s, Othello. Kirsten Robek will return for her second turn as Mary Bailey (after taking over the role for 2 weeks last season) along with new cast members Eileen Barrett as Mother Bailey, a host of new young faces playing the children, Hrothgar Matthews as Gower, and Arts Club veteran Alec Willows stepping in to play the wicked Mr Potter. The angel, Clarence, will still be delightfully played by our own Bernard Cuffling—fresh off the success of reprising his role in The History Boys for the Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre this August. These actors represent an amazing array of talent and we are thrilled to be sharing the holiday season with them.
Don’t miss out, as the best seats at the best prices are available now! Buy tickets here