'Take care of one another:' It's a Wonderful Life opens at new-look Neptune Theatre
Classic film brought to stage in George Pothitos' last play as artistic director.
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Chris Zonneville knew It’s a Wonderful Life was the perfect play to help his own guardian angel wave goodbye to Neptune Theatre.
Zonneville, a Stratford, Ont. actor who plays lead character George Bailey in a stage adaptation by artistic director George Pothitos of the classic 1946 Christmas film, said the Halifax George has always been a source of strength in his own life and wrote to him right away when he heard he’d be producing It’s a Wonderful Life.
“I firmly believe we have guardians that look out for us in our lives, whether they’re conscious of it or not. I know that George has always kind of watched over me in my career. When I’ve had moments of thinking of giving up, George has been there to support me,” Zonneville said at Neptune Tuesday after the play’s media preview.
“I feel very fortunate to be able to tell this story. It’s a great Christmas story, it’s a great family story, it’s also a great story of man overcoming the hiccoughs that we experience.”
In the play as in the film, when Zonneville’s George Bailey falls on hard times on Christmas Eve and despairs he’s ruined everything, Clarence (Randy Hughson) a guardian angel yet to get his wings, swoops in to show just what his community would be like without him.
The stage version will keep the “heart” of the movie so many generations know and love, Zonneville said, while not trying to copy it exactly.
He does a terrible Jimmy Stewart (film’s George Bailey) impression, for example, Zonneville said with a laugh, but added there’s enough similarities with the story and characters for audiences to be reminded of the movie and then launched into something “more in depth.”
For Pothitos, it’s that message of taking time to appreciate your loved ones that keeps the story timeless, and drove him to adapt it for his final Neptune show after a nine-year tenure.
That, coupled with the fact that growing up it was one of his family’s favourites, alongside Miracle on 34th Street which he directed last year.
Bailey is truly the “every man” we all hope to be, Zonneville said, a reminder of love and selflessness over materialism, which is embodied by his greedy “arch-nemesis” Mr. Potter.
“This (is) the time of year when we look at everybody as an equal and take of them in such a way. It doesn’t put money in our pockets but that’s what the payoff is in the end,” Zonneville said.
“Just smile upon your fellow man, take a step in their shoes. I think we can all take care of one another a little more.”
How to go: It’s a Wonderful Life opens Saturday night in the new Fountain Hall and runs through the holidays until Dec.31. Visit neptunetheatre.com for a schedule and tickets.
Setting Neptune up for the future
Long-time artistic director George Pothitos is leaving Neptune Theatre with a “new lease on life,” setting the space up for years to come.
The major $5.2-million renovations to the Fountain Hall theatre, building foyer, public spaces and more have been unveiled with this week’s production of It’s a Wonderful Life, which crowds will be able to enjoy in new seats - some two to four inches wider than before.
“I’ve done a lot of what I’ve set out to do,” Pothitos said. “It’s nice to have played that part in it.”
Those with long legs are also in luck since the new rows are further apart. However, Pothitos said to accommodate those changes they had to lose a row of seats, so they filled in the former aisle space in seven of the rows with new chairs to cut down the difference.
The most striking element of the renovations is the new main foyer, with modern tiling and lighting that is much more spacious due to the old box office being pushed back - modern ticketing systems don’t need nearly as space as old ones, Pothitos said, adding that opening night parties will now be in the new foyer.
The hall itself is also fully licensed (a carry-over from the smash hit Once where people got drinks from a bar on stage), so everyone can sip their drinks in their seats rather than rushing during intermission.
Much of the funding went into modernizing the theatre itself, Pothitos said, which might not be obvious to the public but new wiring, sound system, relocated orchestra pit, trapdoor and spring floor stage all make life much easier and enjoyable for the actors and theatre staff.
“What I’m hoping it will do is propel Neptune into the next 15 years,” Pothitos said. “It’s a rejuvenation project.”