Make us your home page

Review: Stageworks' 'This Wonderful Life' condenses a holiday classic

TAMPA — Stageworks Theatre has never been afraid to take a chance.

The show running now, This Wonderful Life, a staged version of the Frank Capra-Jimmy Stewart Christmas classic It's a Wonderful Life, would seem like a safe bet. Except for one thing: One actor plays all 37 parts.

So the town of Bedford Falls consists of a few doll houses arranged on an otherwise bare set by award-winning scenic designer Scott Cooper. Larry Alexander plays all of the people in it, notably George Bailey, the beleaguered but honest developer of Bedford Falls, and Mr. Potter, the slumlord who runs him out of business.

Now really, why would anyone do this?

The answer has as much to do with theater as it does about a sweet story that doesn't age, even though the dollar figures do. One actor playing everybody (plus a reliable narrator, thank god) is not a new gambit. But it's something theaters are doing a lot more of in recent years, not only to cut costs but showcase skills.

Alexander, a Tampa native with a long and accomplished career, is a versatile enough actor to pull it off. And the notion of doing this story as a one-man show, conceived by Mark Setlock, is little less of a stretch than it might seem. George is existentially alone, after all, the way Job was alone. The story is about his aloneness, and also karma and goodwill suitable for the holidays.

So maybe going in, you have two questions: Can this be done? And how long is it going to last?

It comes down to storytelling, in the major conflict that emerges early. Mr. Potter's financial manipulations have brought George to the edge of ruin. George didn't want to be there in the first place, he was ambitious and had places to go. But duty forced him to take over his father's failing business.

It gets worse, as you almost surely know, and an angel comes along and, in Dickensian fashion, shows George why his life is not only worth living, but indispensable to the town.

Alexander recreates some engaging face-offs between George and Mr. Potter. He and director Karla Hartley, who is also Stageworks' producing artistic director, know that to make this work, you might as well ham it up and go for broke.

The script is tight, and the story flies by much more quickly than the movie. By definition, it's pretty busy, but you've bought into that or you wouldn't be there.

Major characters come alive, including Mary, George's childhood sweetheart and long-suffering wife. Watching Alexander dance the Charleston, you would never suspect he broke his foot a week or so before the show opened Dec. 2. Apparently he is fine now.

Alexander supplies some off-stage voices as well, including an anxious mob outside his building and loan company and his four screaming children.

It's surely not a spoiler to say good wins out in the end. Nor, if you take part of an evening to catch This Wonderful Life, will you necessarily regret it. But it kind of has to be your thing, whether to satisfy a curiosity or to support a gutsy endeavor.

As far as the worthiness of that investment of time goes, you could do worse. You could probably do better, too.

Contact Andrew Meacham at or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

. If you go

This Wonderful Life

The show runs through Dec. 20 at Stageworks Theatre, 1120 E Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. $30. (813)374-2418.

Review: Stageworks' 'This Wonderful Life' condenses a holiday classic 12/11/15 [Last modified: Friday, December 11, 2015 6:08pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Plan your weekend Aug. 18-20: Elvis in concert, Jason Aldean, Monster Jam Triple Threat, Sing-Along Grease


    Plan your weekend

    The king

    Elvis: Live in Concert: This year marks the 40th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death, and Ruth Eckerd Hall will have a Graceland-produced Elvis concert on a movie screen, accompanied by a full live orchestra. Graceland calls it the closest audiences …

    Handout photos of Elvis: Live in Concert, a tour spectacle featuring a live orchestra backing the voice of Elvis Presley, projected onto a movie screen. The tour comes to Ruth Eckerd Hall on 8/18/17. Credit: Graceland.
  2. Taco and Beer Fiesta set for St. Pete, followed by the Ooze and Booze Fest

    Food & Dining

    The Gulf to Bay Food Truck association recently announced a trio of events for mobile comfort food lovers.

    These kimchi topped tacos will be served by Anju Korean Gastrotruck. [Gulf to Bay Food Truck Association]
  3. Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson can't keep 'The Hitman's Bodyguard' on-target


    The Hitman's Bodyguard is an assault tank on semi-automatic pilot, spraying jokes and bullets with only the ammo consistently hitting its targets. The irresistible teaming of Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson might be even funnier if they missed once in a while.

    Samuel L. Jackson plays a master assassin testifying against a dictator, and Ryan Reynolds plays a bodyguard tasked with keeping him alive.
  4. 8 things to do in Tampa Bay on Aug. 17


    Clearwater Threshers: vs. St. Lucie Mets: For "Taps and Tacos" night, 16 local craft beers on tap near the Tijuana Flats kiosk, located on the concourse along the third-base line. 7 p.m., Spectrum Field, 601 N Old Coachman Road, Clearwater. $6-$10. (727) 467-4457.

    St. Lucie Mets outfielder Tim Tebow during the Mets at Threshers game at Spectrum Field on Monday, August 14, 2017, in Clearwater, Fla. Monday night was Tim Tebow's 30th Birthday Party celebration.
  5. What's new in theaters: 'The Hitman's Bodyguard,' 'Logan Lucky,' 'Wind River'




    Loving the trailer for The Hitman's Bodyguard (R) poking fun at quotes from reviewers prone to phrases like "It's a roller coaster ride!" for better chances to see their names in TV ads.

    Salma Hayek and Samuel L. Jackson in The Hitman’s Bodyguard.