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Previews: WONDERFUL LIFE (ONE-MAN SHOW) at American Stage Pop Up

Actor Matt McGee plays every character in the beloved Christmas tale of redemption

Previews: WONDERFUL LIFE (ONE-MAN SHOW) at American Stage Pop Up

Opening December 15-25 is American Stage's pop-up staged reading of "Wonderful Life." This play is the holiday canvas, and actor Matt McGee is the storytelling paintbrush.

Through an octave change - up or down, the deliverance of speech - fast-paced or unhurried, Matt will delight audiences of all ages with the innovative retelling of the beloved story. Matt portrays every character in this holiday classic in 1945 in Bedford Falls, NY.

While it is not a regular occurrence to add a show mid-season, new producing artistic director Helen Murray wanted to do something fresh for the holidays. She and Jason Lott co-adapted the familiar story. Helen is directing what has been described as "a stripped-down, raw, and emotional look at George Bailey's life."

"Because it is more low-tech, I will have to inhabit each of the characters through my voice," said Matt.

The story poses the question: would everyone have been better if George Bailey had never been born?

The pop-up, "Wonderful Life," opens at Coastal Creative, Studio @620, The James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art, and Gulfport's Catherine A. Hickman Theater.

The play builds on monologues, allowing Matt time to switch between characters. While most will recognize Matt's name for his serious portfolio of acting credits, playwriting, and incredible drag performances, he has always wanted to be a character actor like Charles Durning, Christopher Lloyd, and Paul Giamatti. They were character actors that he was inspired by watching films growing up.

"This show is a good fit. The only character that really challenges me is George Bailey. He is the hardest character in the piece because he is so closely associated with the wonderful Jimmy Stewart. I'm not going to be doing an impersonation," said Matt. "Most of the other characters, from Clarence to Mr. Potter to Mary Bailey - I've got a good hold on them because I think they're all character roles. George Bailey is the toughest one, I think. These will not be caricatures."

Matt said his favorite character to bring to life is Clarence, the Angel.

"That role is really special to me - the angel trying to get their wings. He's a very sweet part of the story. Clarence is an Angel first class, and he keeps having a hard time trying to earn his wings. He's a little more bumbly. He isn't quite as confident as someone like George Bailey, so there are just all these little things you can find to make the character."

Matt described the differences in reading the other characters.

"When I play Mary, George's wife, I soften my voice slightly. Potter is much deeper because he's a lot older and not a good person. There's a different way of showing that and inhabiting that vocally. So there's a lot of fun stuff to do there."

Matt said that coming out of the pandemic, with people making significant life changes and better appreciating those around them, the show is somewhat like life imitating art.

"The movie is about someone who is given an opportunity to look back on what it would be like if they had never been born. These days, I think most people are looking for their reason for doing what they do and what they mean in the grand scheme of things. How important are they? Look at social media - everybody wants to be seen. George has a chance to see what it would be like if he had never been there, and it teaches him to appreciate everything he has. I believe this show speaks to people in a unique and profound way. I think telling this story with one person focuses the story and the words a lot more. It's just a perfect show for the holidays... especially right now."

"Wonderful Life" is December 15-24 at the following locations:

  • Dec 15., 7 p.m. at Coastal Creative
  • Dec. 16, 8 p.m. at Studio @620
  • Dec. 17, 2 & 8 p.m. at The James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art
  • Dec. 18, 2 p.m. at The James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art
  • Dec. 22, 7 Catherine A. Hickman Theater
  • Dec. 23, 8 p.m. at Catherine A. Hickman Theater
  • Dec. 24, 2 & 8 p.m. at Catherine A Hickman Theater

Single tickets are $35. Tickets available at

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