BWW Review: Aurora Theatre's Jeremy Aggers Begins a New Holiday Tradition with THIS WONDERFUL LIFE
It's not Christmas until we hear "every time a bell rings, and angel gets its wings" on NBC on Christmas Eve. In Atlanta, it won't be Christmas until you see THIS WONDERFUL LIFE at Aurora Theatre.
Presented narrative-style, this adaptation sees actor Jeremy Aggers alone on stage telling Frank Capra's heartwarming story as he embodies every character from Bedford Falls to Heaven. The elephant in the room here of course is the movie's nostalgic value in one way or another for every audience member. You mess with IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, you're messing with literally everyone's Christmas. No pressure. So thank goodness writer Steve Murray's adaptation, directed by Justin Anderson, sees this obstacle and embraces it.
With a conversational narrator and no shred of a fourth wall, the self-aware script leans into the audience's love for the original, loving it right alongside us. It is told as if the audience's good friend Jeremy up and decides to start telling all of us an animated summary of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, complete with side commentary. When introducing George Bailey, the narrator mentions Bailey's striking resemblance to Jimmy Stewart as his headshot flashes on screens around the theatre, along with other quirky asides like calling Mr. Potter names, or bemoaning Bailey's lack of boundaries with the whole city of Bedford Falls. Cue laughter and instant connection with the audience. For a movie that can be hard to watch for the first hour or so, the empathetic narrator/friend allows the audience to look at the movie from a modern perspective while staying completely true to the story.
Housed in Aurora's intimate Peach State Federal Credit Union Studio black box space, Bedford Falls' many houses and buildings come to life as dollhouses suspended in the air on the back wall of the stage. Referenced by Aggers throughout the play, they are a great example of how well designers Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay always use the medium they have as a strength, not a weakness in storytelling. Believe you me, this story loses nothing being on the stage rather than the screen.
This show would have no legs were it not for the vast talents of Jeremy Aggers. His ability to differentiate characters goes far beyond the bare minimum of voices and blocking. Yes, he does a Jimmy Stewart impression, and yes, it's excellent. He consistently employs distinct, sometimes subtle physical affectations for each character recognizably enough for the audience to know exactly which character is which at every moment. Aggers himself really is the show. No clunky costume changes. No set changes. Just Aggers and the occasional coat and suitcase.
From the moment he enters and delivers his first monologue- which is quirky and amazing, but I won't describe because I want it to be a surprise when you see it- he shows the audience that he is not merely a performer sharing his expertise, he is one of them. And that's what makes this production incredibly special.
An iconic movie is risky to re-do in any capacity because there is constant comparison to the original, but I'm here to tell you very little can enhance an Atlanta Christmas experience like a visit to Aurora Theatre to see everyone's new best friend Jeremy share the story of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, hopefully year after year.
THIS WONDERFUL LIFE runs through December 23. For tickets and more information, visit AuroraTheatre.com.