You don’t have to go to the theater to see “This Wonderful Life.” It’s in Joe’s house and Mrs. Kennedy’s house and Mrs. Macklin’s house and a hundred others, and it’s available to watch at your convenience.
“This Wonderful Life,” a one-actor stage adaptation of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” will be streaming on demand Dec.19-25 through Perseverance Theatre and Dec. 19-30 through the service Broadway on Demand.
“We’re the professional theater of Alaska, and we take that seriously,” said Leslie Ishii, Perseverance Theatre’s artistic director and co-director of “This Wonderful Life,” in a video interview. “And gosh, we’re able to reach more of Alaska because of this moment.”
“This Wonderful Life,” which is co-directed by Josh Lowman, stars Ishii’s husband, Wes Mann, who people will likely recognize from one of his dozens of film and television roles over the past few decades. While Mann has appeared in everything from “Back to the Future Part II” to “That’s So Raven” to “Lucifer” over the years, “This Wonderful Life” will be his first Perseverance Theatre production as an actor — he said he’s been an audience member and helped make props in the past.
Ishii, Mann and Lowman said the digital production and casting allow the theater to offer the community another special holiday-focused effort — “A Tlingit Christmas” is also debuting new staves and available to stream online — as safely as possible.
“We wanted to do something as a gift to our community, together, but also we wanted to be safe,” Ishii said. “We can be in our own bubble. If we can be in our own bubble and not expose other staff members, we just thought that was the best way to go about it.”
Offering “This Wonderful Life” as an on-demand, digital option also means the play can be shot using multiple cameras and some effects can be added during editing, said the production’s co-directors and cast of one.
“It’s going to be pre-recorded, almost straight through with breaks as if we were doing them live,” Lowman said. “Sort of like sitcoms are done, live-to-tape.”
Mann said the atypical project has underscored how much he enjoys working with other actors. The audience’s absence creates a challenge, too.
“The challenge really is to anticipate where a laugh might be,” Mann said.
While the show will be a less-familiar take on what has become a holiday staple, plenty of the Frank Capra film will be recognizable in “This Wonderful Life.” Mann demonstrated a Jimmy Stewart impression during the video interview and said during the show he’ll be channeling Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore, too.
“You can’t avoid it,” Mann said. “It’s so iconic.”
The show’s dramatic themes and premise are also a constant. George Bailey is still a man beset by stressors and pressures from many sides and contemplating dying by suicide. Through divine intervention, he discovers the myriad ways he has touched other lives.
“The movie makes me cry,” Mann said.
Lowman said he has a personal, slightly unusual connection to the material, too. He previously was a bank manager and understands what missing money —$8,000 in the play, which Lowman said works out to be about $120,000 today —would mean for a bank.
“I think parts of it resonate with me that don’t resonate with other people,” he said with a laugh.
Ishii, Lowman and Mann said in light of pandemic-related challenges, the material is made especially moving and relatable. They said economic anxiety, the way individualism and isolation can lead to feelings of depression and the way actions ripple and affect others are all things that have recently gained extra poignancy.
“There’s a lot of different little things that resonate with what’s happening right now,” Lowman said.
• Contact Ben Hohenstatt at (907)308-4895 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt
Know & Go
What: “This Wonderful Life”
When: On demand from 7:30 p.m. Dec. 19 through Dec. 25.
Where: A link will be emailed to people who purchase tickets.
Admission: Admission is pay-as-you can with $12, $17 and $27 options. They are available through https://www.ptalaska.org/twl/.