It has been probably since I was in the second grade, and, by the time I was in the fourth grade, I think I had it memorized. I remember going to my aunt's apartment one Christmas Day and running down the New York City block calling-out, "Merry Christmas movie house! Merry Christmas, Emporium!" I think it's not only the best Christmas movie ever made, but also the best film ever made and definitely the greatest love story ever told. (That kiss scene by the phone was my ideal of romance for most of my life.)
I remember seeing a musical production of it when I was 10 with my dad, glancing at him towards the end and realizing he was crying (my dad was tough. My dad was athletic. But my dad cried for movies and shows. I had to have gotten it from somewhere) and then when we exited the theatre, found it had started snowing. Just one of those very perfect Christmas memories that you can't make-up.We even had a tiny porcelain Bedford Falls village we set-up.
Last year, my play Pigeons, Knishes and Rockettes premiered off-Broadway and it was about a young man who hates Christmas and the young lady who changes that. Halfway through the play, the character of Peter goes into a rant about how much he hates that movie and how in reality, it is very depressing, pointing-out all the things that are wrong with it. (I mean...why DOES Mary only wear glasses when George doesn't exist? Did George have really good eye insurance or something?)
I don't echo Peter's sentiments. I love that movie. I love George Bailey.
So, when Carl Howell, the actor who played Peter told me a few months ago, "You're going to think I'm lying, but I'm directing a youth production of It's a Wonderful Life..."
I knew I couldn't miss it. It's a Wonderful Life and little kids are my two favorite things in the world.
The Philipstown Depot Theater was quite a hike away in a tiny theater with a sign warning people not to skateboard on the premises. (Thank goodness!) It's quaint and lovely and charming. (The last thing I will ever become is a "Broadway snob." Wonderful theater is all around us.)
Now, I've learned over the years that sometimes it's hard to sit through a children's production if you don't know any children IN that production. A few people asked me which kid I was there cheering on. ("That...little kid with the curly hair! Yeah...she's mine.")
However, not the case with this show! I "awwwed" and cracked-up at these kids every bit as I would have been had my little cousin Mia been playing Zuzu herself. The play was only 75 minutes long...much shorter than the movie, but they also completely kept ALL of the heart of it. I didn't miss the swimming pool dance floor or the scene when they show Harry in the warplanes at all.
(My favorite part of this production was Harry Bailey running-out at the end in his little soldier's uniform. I wanted to adopt him, but I'm sure his parents might mind.)
Carl, the director, has never seen the movie and decided to keep it that way, letting these beautiful young kids bring nothing but the purest and original interpretation possible to this classic tale. They all succeeded. It was wonderfully done. I listened to an audience member tell Carl that she was crying at the end due to the innocence of the children bringing-out the meaning of the story. She was right...you don't need Hollywood legends when you're acting from the heart.
Four stars to Carl and all of these fantastic kids on a brilliant re-imagining of characters almost familiar to me as my own family.