Theatre in the Park remakes ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ | AspenTimes.com
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Theatre in the Park remakes ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

Stewart Oksenhorn

Had it not been for an oversight by movie studio RKO, “It’s a Wonderful Life” might be more a distant memory than the widely loved classic it has become.In 1974, RKO failed to renew its rights to the 1946 Frank Capra film, which stars James Stewart as distraught banker and family man George Bailey. In the 1980s, TV stations jumped on RKO’s mistake and began re-running the Christmas-themed film ad nauseam – without having to pay for the broadcast rights.David McClendon is happy to further feed the audience created for “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Since becoming the artistic director for Aspen Theatre in the Park earlier this year, McClendon searched for a holiday story to present as an annual tradition. After considering Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” and rejecting the “Scrooge” plays, McClendon settled on James Rodgers’ stage version of “It’s a Wonderful Life.””It is a part of all of us. It became part of our Thanksgiving weekend,” said McClendon, who directs Theatre in the Park’s inaugural production of the play, which opens tonight at the Wheeler Opera House and runs through Thursday, Dec. 23, with nightly performances and a 2 p.m. matinee on Thursday.Tonight’s opening performance will be preceded by the presentation of ATIP’s first Angel of Aspen awards at a pre-performance gala. The first two recipients – Aspen businessman and philanthropist Lenny “Boogie” Weinglass and longtime ATIP supporter Darlynn Fellman, recognized for their contributions to Aspen’s cultural life – will be presented with the award by Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud. A VIP dessert reception will follow the performance.Apart from building on the audience inadvertently built by RKO’s mistake, McClendon is borrowing the actual footage RKO left unprotected. His version of “It’s a Wonderful Life” combines scenes from the movie – including the old-fashioned opening credits, and images of the Bailey home and George’s bank and loan – with live performance.”The idea of being able to merge parts of the film with the live performance, that really intrigued me,” McClendon said. “It’s always fun to think in those terms of no limitations. I do love technology.”The cast features David Ledingham, an Aspen product now living in New York, as George Bailey, with Denver’s Diana Dresser as Mary Bailey, Carbondale’s Bob Moore as Clarence, and Theatre in the Park founder Kent Reed as Mr. Potter. Sets are by Tom Ward, costumes by Dave Samuelson and video projection by Tom Wardaszka.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com