Four "George Bailey's" say it's a wonderful life

Four "George Bailey's" say it's a wonderful life

December 4th, 2011 by Clint Cooper in Life Entertainment

Josh Whitfield is George Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life" at Gem Theater in Etowah, Tenn.

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

Steffen Smith sought the spotlight. In the case of Chris Smith, the spotlight found him.

Four area men, including the two Smiths, are playing the iconic character George Bailey this month in the stage version of "It's a Wonderful Life," one of the most beloved Christmas movies ever.

The play is being offered at the Gem Theater in Etowah, Tenn., and the Blue Ridge Community Theater in Blue Ridge, Ga. It just closed at the Walker County Community Theater in Rock Spring, Ga. A slightly different version is playing at the Tennessee Valley Theatre in Spring City, Tenn.

The role of George Bailey, the selfless, loyal, small-town businessman who has postponed his dreams so that others might prosper, was made famous in the 1946 movie featuring Jimmy Stewart.

Steffen Smith, who is playing the role at the Blue Ridge Community Theater, said he auditioned for the part.

"I'll be honest," he said. "I'm a raging prima donna. I was aiming high."

The Blue Ridge resident not only wound up with the role but gets to share the stage with his 15-year-old son, C.J., who plays the young George Bailey.

"I always wanted to be in a play with him," he said. "He kind of owns the first act. I'm onstage most of the second act. It's an awesome experience. It's kind of tough for parents and teenagers to find common ground, but this is a great chance for us to be together."

Chris Smith, who played the role at the Walker County Community Theater, was contacted after auditions and asked to consider the part. Bitten recently by the acting bug, he jumped at the opportunity.

"I was definitely really excited to get a chance to do it," he said. "It's one of my favorite stories. I thought it was a chance to get into [it] in a new way."

MEET THE GEORGE BAILEYS

Steve Orender

* Age: 62.

* Hometown: Spring City, Tenn.

* Theater: Tennessee Valley Theatre, 184 W. Jackson Ave., Spring City, Tenn.

* Offstage role: Retired.

* Previous acting experience: 15 or 16 shows at Tennessee Valley Theatre, three Scopes Trial re-creations in Dayton, Tenn., one show in Colorado.

* How "It's a Wonderful Life -- A Live Radio Play" differs: "It's as close as we can get it to the way [a 1940s radio broadcast] was originally written and designed to be presented. In all the other roles I've done, we memorized our lines. In this show, we have a script in front of us that we're supposed to be holding. Thirteen different characters are reading 20 or more different parts. ... There is visual interest in the costumes. ... The sound-effects table and other articles are out in front of the stage, so the audience can see the sound effects made. It makes for an interesting show, I think."

* Impression of George Bailey: "He seems so real. He goes from being the starry-eyed young man who has all these ideas and big dreams to the pragmatic George who finds himself stuck in his little town and his niche. He's absolutely downcast, wishing he'd never been born. But he comes bouncing back, realizing what life in Bedford Falls would be without him. He's more real than any character in the story.

* Remaining shows: 2 p.m. today, 7:30 p.m. Friday, 6:30 p.m. Saturday (dinner and show), 2 p.m. Dec. 11.

* * * * *

Chris Smith

* Age: 23.

* Hometown: Dalton, Ga.

* Theater: Walker County Community Theater, 10052 N. Highway 27, Rock Spring, Ga.

* Offstage role: Employed by Dalton Convention and Visitors Bureau.

* Previous acting experience: Third role, all in the past six months, the previous two at the Catoosa County Colonnade. Has already been cast in two upcoming shows.

* Memories of "It's a Wonderful Life": "Every Christmas we make sure we watch it. It's a tradition in the house. Or we go out and get the DVD [to watch] a week before Christmas."

* Impression of George Bailey: "I'm always joking with my dad that I relate to George Bailey a little too much. Like, I have big dreams, and life is not always what you expect. Now that I'm out of college, I understand that the really important things [are] family and friends and stuff like that. [George Bailey is] a character I can get into easily. You can get jaded after a while, especially after the past couple of years with the [bad] economy. [But life is about] where you put your values. I think [the play] reached to me personally because of that."

* Remaining shows: The play closed Friday.

* * * * *

Steffen Smith

* Age: 48.

* Hometown: Blue Ridge, Ga.

* Theater: Blue Ridge Community Theater, 420 W. Main St., Blue Ridge, Ga.

* Offstage role: Advertising copywriter.

* Previous acting experience: A founding member of Blue Ridge Community Theater, he has performed in numerous shows there over past 10 years, including, most recently, "Leading Ladies."

* Memories of "It's a Wonderful Life": "I came to it late in life. I don't think I ever saw it until [his children] were young. ... Jimmy Stewart is heartbreakingly young, innocent and handsome. It's touching for me to see somebody like him before his prime."

* Impression of George Bailey: "I can relate [to] his humanness. It's so easy for me to forget my blessings. Really, I don't have any problems in life; I have some annoyances. I think it's part of the human condition [that] we always overlook our blessings. Also, I think it's been said, 'No one's a failure who has friends.'"

* Remaining shows: 2 p.m. today; 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Dec. 11; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 15-17; 2 p.m. Dec. 18.

* * * * *

Josh Whitfield

* Age: 19.

* Hometown: Athens, Tenn.

* Theater: Gem Theater, 700 S. Tennessee Ave. (Highway 411), Etowah, Tenn.

* Offstage role: Student, Cleveland State Community College.

* Previous acting experience: First role outside of church and school productions.

* Memories of "It's Wonderful Life": "[It] has always been a favorite Christmas movie of mine. It's the message behind it [of] what you really have, [of] if you were gone what kind of people you could have influenced [or] changed."

* Impression of George Bailey: "What stands out most is his good nature. He could have walked away from the loan office (Bailey Building and Loan Association) and left those people behind. But he felt responsibility there, and he took it. ... It's also his attitude. He has a kind of personality that stands out. He's always an alive kind of person, vivid and passionate about what he says.

* Remaining shows: 2:30 p.m. today, 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Dec. 11.