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'It's a Wonderful Life' kicks off tonight

A classic holiday tale will take the stage this week, in a production designed to warm the hearts of audiences.

The Henry Players will present "It's a Wonderful Life" tonight through Sunday, at the Henry County Performing Arts Center in McDonough, with performances at 7:30 p.m., through Saturday, and at 2:30 p.m., on Sunday.

Tickets are $12 for adults, and $10 for children and seniors, and can be purchased on the troupe's web site, or at the door.

The production, based on the 1946 James Stewart film the same name, tells the story of George Bailey, who director Renee Yawn calls an "everyman." Bailey, said Yawn, finds himself in a series of trying circumstances, which set the stage for the remainder of the play.

"An event comes up in his life that puts him in a really bad position, and he feels like the only thing he can do is take his life," said Yawn, 43, of Locust Grove. "On the eve of his considering giving away God's greatest gift, his guardian angel comes to show him what life would have been like to everybody around him, had he not been born."

Yawn said she was excited to take the helm as director, for the first time in the performance of "It's a Wonderful Life," a story that has resonated with viewers for years.

"I think everybody can relate to it at some point in their life," she said. "You just reach a point where you just can't do it alone anymore. We've all reached down into the depths of our despair, and asked for help. When you allow people to give you a hand, I think it's the turning point in everybody's life."

The production represents the Players' kick-off for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Yawn said supporters of the theater troupe have displayed their appreciation through the years. "Our audience has been very vocal, that they like a holiday show at Thanksgiving," she said. "The Christmas show always puts me in the holiday frame of mind, so, of course, that's our first goal."

About 25 people make up the cast of the production, according to Yawn. She said members of the group possess a wide range of stage experience. "We have veterans, and we have newbies," said the director. "We have teenagers, and we have grown-ups."

The cast, added Yawn, also includes her two daughters — Jessica, 19, and Sabrina, 17.

Stacy Powell has participated in Players' productions since 2008, and is the assistant director for the play. She said she was "ecstatic" about reviving the well-known story in Henry County.

"Bringing it to the stage is a lot different than the movie," said Powell, 40, of Stockbridge. "You have so many different takes in a movie, but on the stage, it's live. I like it better because ... you don't get a second take."

Powell added that performers in the play have contributed to its uniqueness. "The people that we've cast in this show have made the parts their own," she said. "I know everybody's going to come in with the Jimmy Stewart persona in the back of their minds, but everybody has brought something to their role."

Andy Fritz, of Hampton, will tackle the role of George Bailey, in his first production with the Players. Fritz, 20, said he was "shocked" when he won the leading role. Fritz acknowledged that he is younger than what viewers might have envisioned for the character he will portray, and said he strived to make the part his own.

"Jimmy Stewart was iconic with that role, and there's no way that anyone could mimic that with any success," said Fritz. "With this part, I've tried to capture a bit more youth and vitality. You're not going to be able to imitate it perfectly. The best you can do is emulate it to the best of your ability."

Another departure from the original film for the Players can be seen in the casting of Montell Newton as Clarence, the guardian angel. Newton, 17, of Locust Grove, will assume the role popularized actor Henry Travers in the film. The teenager said he hopes to bring "a different vibe" to Clarence than viewers might expect.

"Clarence, in the movie, was more of a goofy kind of ‘didn't really know what he was doing' character, whereas Clarence, in the play, is like a guardian," said Newton. "He takes on more of a narrator role in the play. In the film, he's a sidekick more than a real, leading factor in the plot. I really want people to say, ‘Wow, that's not what I was expecting, but I like it.'"

Robert Crawford will participate in a Henry Players production for the 36th time, when he steps into character as Mr. Potter, the villain in "It's a Wonderful Life." Crawford, 57, of Stockbridge, said he is looking forward to lending his talents to the popular story.

"It's probably one of the top 10 most classic films that ever came out of Hollywood," he said. "It's a lot of people's favorite Christmas movie, or one of their favorites, at least. Playing a villain is always fun, and Mr. Potter's right up there with the best of them."

Tierra Canup, of Jonesboro, will appear in her first Players show in "It's a Wonderful Life," as George Bailey's wife, Mary. Canup, a theater major at Clayton State University, said she is excited about the opportunity.

"It's the biggest role I've ever had," said Canup, 21. "I've never had a leading character before. I was ecstatic. I screamed over the phone when Stacy [Powell] called me. To be part of a show that is an icon of American culture is really something."

For more information, visit www.henryplayers.com.