'This Wonderful Life' at American Stage is a one-man homage to Frank Capra's 'It's a Wonderful Life'

Actor Chris Swan, left, rehearses Monday at American Stage for performances of This Wonderful Life, a one-man stage version of Frank Capra’s much beloved film It’s a Wonderful Life.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Actor Chris Swan, left, rehearses Monday at American Stage for performances of This Wonderful Life, a one-man stage version of Frank Capra’s much beloved film It’s a Wonderful Life.

Every holiday season, Bedford Falls beckons, though It's a Wonderful Life isn't quite as ubiquitous as it was in the 1990s, when you could catch a showing of the movie every day on TV from Thanksgiving to New Year's.

Still, actor Christopher Swan hopes people have seen it before coming to This Wonderful Life, the one-man show he stars in at American Stage that opens this week.

"A lot of the play does rely on audience familiarity with the movie," Swan says. "It makes the experience of seeing the play so much better because we refer to semi-inside jokes about the movie. With one line or one look we suggest moments in the movie."

Swan portrays all the movie's characters from George Bailey to Mr. Potter to Uncle Billy to Zuzu Bailey in the play by Steve Murray and Mark Setlock. To prepare for the performance, he has been watching the Frank Capra film.

"I watched it intently straight through twice, and now I always have it on in the background when I'm working on scenes," he says. "We have a copy to watch in rehearsals, so that when we get to a sticky spot in the script, we can check the movie."

The production, directed by Todd Olson, is designed to take advantage of the technical capacity of American Stage's new theater.

"Todd has incorporated a lot of sound, a lot of lights," Swan says. "You basically go to all the locales that you do in the movie, and every one needs sound and lights to make the transitions. I think it's going to be a feast for the eyes and ears."

Swan is appearing in his second cinematic homage at the St. Petersburg theater. Last season, he played director Victor Fleming in Moonlight and Magnolias, a comedy that imagined the process of writing the screenplay of Gone With the Wind.

This Wonderful Life has previews today and Thursday and opens Friday to run through Dec. 27 at 163 Third St. N, St. Petersburg. $26-$45, with $10 student rush tickets available 30 minutes before curtain. (727) 823-7529; americanstage.org.

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There's another solo show opening this week, Bad Dates, Theresa Rebeck's series of comic monologues about a single mother's romantic life, or lack thereof. Jessica Rothert plays Haley Walker, a transplanted Texan who runs a popular New York restaurant but is pushing 40 and hasn't been out on a date with a man in years. She tries on many pairs of shoes. Rosemary Orlando directs the Stageworks Theatre production. It has a preview Thursday and opens Friday to run through Dec. 6 at Shimberg Playhouse of David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts (formerly Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center). The Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances this week are sold out. $24.95, $10. (813) 229-7827; tbpac.org.

John Fleming can be reached at fleming@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8716. He blogs on Critics Circle at blogs.tampabay.com/arts.

'This Wonderful Life' at American Stage is a one-man homage to Frank Capra's 'It's a Wonderful Life' 11/17/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 17, 2009 10:25pm]

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