It's Thanksgiving weekend, which means it's time to start watching the classic Frank Capra film It's A Wonderful Life. With that in mind, we got to thinking about whom we would cast in a stage adaptation of the work, settling on a host of beloved Broadway veterans. (Note: We recognize that there are at least two stage adaptations of the property, one in the style of a theatrical radio play, the other a musical by Sheldon Harnick and Joe Raposo that has played regionally across the country. For these purposes, we're imagining an entirely different stage version.)
Brian d'Arcy James as George Bailey
James Stewart, who starred as George Bailey in the beloved 1946 Christmas movie, is remembered as perhaps the every-est everyman ever put to film. The iconic actor's warm universality is what gives this story of a man pulled back from the brink so much yuletide re-watch value — it warms our collective cockles to witness the redemption of such a lovable person. Of course, Broadway has a fully stocked roster of charmers, but who better to fill Stewart's shoes than Brian d'Arcy James, who's imbued characters from Shrek to Hamilton's King George with his effortless je ne sais quoi? Plus, he's got a level of Christmas spirit and hometown pride that could only be rivaled by George Bailey himself.
Reed Birney as Mr. Potter
We love Lionel Barrymore's unabashedly slimy performance as the town tycoon in the film, but one of the drawbacks is that his job offer to George (essentially a plan to buy his allegiance and destroy the Bailey Building and Loan) is never as seductive as it should be. We always know that Potter is "nothing but a scurvy little spider," so it comes as no surprise when George tells him as much. After seeing his terrifyingly friendly performance as O'Brien in 1984, we're convinced that Reed Birney is the perfect actor to finally give Mr. Potter's sales pitch the allure it needs. After all, who among us would really turn down the opportunity to be the second-richest man in town? If Birney can put a human face on Orwellian totalitarianism, surely he can sell the American dream.
Lea Salonga as Mary Bailey
In It's a Wonderful Life, Mary Bailey is George's north star, a warm, loving presence who will do whatever she can to save the day. Few actors can stand up to such a beloved portrayal as Donna Reed's, but we're certain that Lea Salonga is up to the task. The beloved star of Miss Saigon, Les Misérables, Aladdin, and Mulan radiates a similar sincerity and headstrong demeanor, one that would serve as the perfect love interest for leading man Brian d'Arcy James. Plus, can you imagine their big love ballad?
Morgan Freeman as Clarence
He's played God more than once, narrated almost too many movies and documentaries to count, and taught us how to read on The Electric Company. With credentials like that, Tony- and Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman should have no problem taking on the role of Clarence, an angel who must help George get his life back on track in order to gain his wings. With an equally balanced background of comedy and drama, we're confident Freeman's Clarence would be the best angel to give George life advice and talk him down from a ledge (literally).
John Cariani as Uncle Billy
Few Broadway actors play "lovably hapless" as well as John Cariani. That's why he would be an excellent choice for the role of George's Uncle Billy, a man who would lose his head were it not attached to his shoulders. Cariani (who is currently playing Itzik in The Band's Visit) would be reuniting with his Something Rotten! costar Brian d'Arcy James, with whom he already has strong brotherly chemistry. As an added bonus, we recommend Broadway animal trainer William Berloni for the stewardship of the hillbilly menagerie that Uncle Billy keeps in his office. Like a live-action Disney character, Cariani seems destined to perform a heartfelt scene with his animal friends.
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