‘Wonderful Life’ debuts; young ERHS cast and new director deliver good show

Alex McCormick (right) as George Bailey tries to reason with hard-hearted business mogul Potter, played by Alex Doebler, in "It's A Wonderful Life." Potter's aide/bodyguiard is played by Bridger Smith. (Photo by Bruce Strand)

by Bruce Strand, Arts editor

The ERHS fall play “It’s a Wonderful Life” made a warm impression on an audience of senior citizens Tuesday before beginning its run of six performances for the public this weekend and next.

“Elk River is in good hands with young people like you,” one of the senior ladies remarked to the cast, as they lined up in the lobby to meet the audience afterward.

Alex McCormick and Cara Fromm, as George Bailey and his sweetheart Mary, huddle on the phone, while her mom, played by Kelsey Wakeman, listens. Chris White built the set. (Photo by Bruce Strand)

When you’re presenting a story that almost everyone knows and loves from frequent TV showings every Christmas season, it’s a high standard to measure up to. Especially with a young cast that has limited experience in varsity plays.

Under the direction of Michelle Brooks in her ERHS debut, the cast of 27 headed by senior Alex  McCormick gave a heartfelt, nicely-paced performance, good enough to evoke some familiar audience emotions as Bedford Falls rallied around kind-hearted, beleaguered banker George Bailey.

A spare but handsome set created by Chris White, consisting mainly of framework — a two-story house, a bridge, a business office — adds much to the visual energy of the play.

Brooks, who previously directed plays at Spring Lake Park, succeeded Phil Bologna at ERHS this year when he resigned after eight years. One of her innovations is a free showing to senior citizens in lieu of a regular dress rehearsal. “Thank you so much for coming,”she beamed. “It means a lot to the kids to have an audience for the first time.”

All the leads had their first big roles and many actors made their ERHS debuts.

McCormick, a senior, has to carry the story, on stage in every scene. He poignantly takes George through a wide range of situations — youthful dreams that give way to tragedy and personal sacrifice, falling in love, battling a formidable rival for the soul of the town, searing defeat, desperation, and ultimately, redemption. Cara Fromm sweetly plays his  wife, Mary, and Adam Habarneh plays his lovably erratic uncle and business aide, Billy.

The ERHS version of the story has a fresh twist regarding George’s guardian angel; instead of the 40ish curmudgeon Clarence we know from the movie, it’s a young gal named Clara dressed gaily as a flapper, played with cheery resolve by Bridgett Hulse.

Forties femininity embodied by (from left) Olivia Fromm, Alicia Brady, Katherine Pysick, and Maddie O’Connor. Behind them is Adam Habarneh, who plays Uncle Billy. (Photo by Bruce Strand)

Alex Doebler, a senior, has the key role of Potter, Bedford Falls’ richest man, bent on crushing Bailey’s little building and loan firm, foreclosing citizens and rebuilding the town in his image. Doebler makes the pompous, wheelchair-bound geezer a fearsome character with a raspy but commanding voice and not a hint of compassion.

The play has six showings for the public (see box).







At Zabee Theater, Elk River High School

Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Nov. 4, 5, 6, at 7 p.m.

Thursday, Nov. 10, at 7 p.m. … Saturday, Nov. 12, at 1:30 and 7 p.m.

Clara, angel second class, played by Mary Hulse, counsels a skeptical George.


The cast

George Bailey: Alex McCormick … Clara: Bridgette Hulse … Grower: Katherine Pysick … Young George: Noah Gilbertson … Harry Bailey: Bridger Smith … Ma Bailey: Elizabeth Brady …  Aunt Tilly: Autumn Laniel … Violet: Alicia Brady … Bert: Lucas Laniel …Ernie: Sami Turcotte … Uncle Billy: Adam Habarneh … Mary Hatch: Cara Fromm … Potter: Alex Doebler … Secretary: Emily Kliewer … Mrs. Hatch: Kelsey Wakeman … Sam (voice): Lucas Laniel … Miss Andrews: Kelsey Wakeman … Mrs. Thompson: Maddie O’Connor … Mr. Martini: Brady Murphy … Mrs. Martini: Hope Martindale … Newspaper boy: Lucas Laniel … Miss Carter: Amanda Mayne … Mr. Welch: Noah Gilbertson … Janie (Bailey’s daughter): Savannah Hulse … Pete: Andrew Bronshteyn … Owen: Owen Pederson … Townspeople: Jeremiah Turcotte, Olivia Fromm