APT Review: ‘This Wonderful Life’ gives highlights of holiday classic

You’ll want to cozy up with a cup of hot cocoa (spiking it with brandy is optional) for “This Wonderful Life,” APT’s re-telling of the Christmas Classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

I’ll admit, I’m not a huge fan of the original film, so I wasn’t too excited for this adaptation, but wow—Nate Burger completely changed my mind. His single handed performance of this work was exactly the thing I needed to get into the Christmas spirit, while getting me in the mindset to think deeply about what the holidays really represent. 

This adaptation gave a perfect highlights reel of the original story, I personally was more enthralled with the story told this way than the original. It was humourous and modern where it needed to be, but in a way that never dulled or took away from the seriousness of the overarching story—a defeated man standing on the edge of suicide on Christmas Eve. 

This careful crafting of light and dark as the story moved forward helped to keep the audience engaged, and ensured that quick emotional connection to characters that single actor was portraying­—that’s not something I’ve ever experienced before in a performance, and this balancing act that Burger pulled off was impressive. 

Burger seemed to effortlessly slip between the various characters of the show, while convincingly playing his role of someone who loves the story and is just excited to be sharing it. The fourth wall breaks Burger brought made the story feel more relatable. 

The emotional connecton Burger elicited from the audience guided us to understand the deeper meaning of the story—and made it so convincing that it turned around on me, reminding me that whether you see it daily or not, everyone has silent cheeleaders in their corner, and that we are that silent cheerleader for others, often without even realizing. As we learned in the show, this story was never about Christmas, but all the other days of the year. 

Overall, bravo to Burger and the APT staff who worked on this, your show was beautifully constructed and was just what I needed to get into the holiday spirit. You made me forget, for just a moment, that I was in my own living room and this was Zoom. 

—Nicole Aimone, Editor-in-Chief

Trying to get into the holiday spirit after just experiencing the hottest November on record, while also dealing with a pandemic has, in my opinion, proven fairly difficult. Therefore, I was thrilled with the opportunity to watch APT’s adaptation of the screenplay for the beloved holiday classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, appropriately titled, “This Wonderful Life”. Upon watching this play by Steve Murray, conceived by Mark Setlock, directed by William Brown, and featuring the brilliant and dynamic Nate Burger, I was transcended into the town of Bedford Falls.

Dressed in a red sweater and set in front of a black curtain, Burger’s comedic and witty rendition of this holiday classic makes simple, yet clever use of props and sound effects to convey insightful meaning to this reenactment. Throughout this dramatic retelling, Burger seamlessly alternates between narrative, character acting and commentary to convey the plot of this holiday classic. Using dramatic facial expressions, movements, stage directions and imitating every character from the movie with impressive accuracy, he reflects the mood of each scene with descriptive precision. In this way, Burger brings this story to life, transporting you to the very movie he is describing,  allowing you to picture every scene.  

Taking place in Bedford Falls, a fictional small town in the United States, the plot of this story follows the main character, George Bailey, as we see his life in flashbacks while angels Franklin, Joseph, and Clarence provide background explanations on other characters and events that have led up to George Bailey contemplating suicide. After a series of disappointing events, George finds himself standing on a bridge on Christmas Eve, preparing to jump. Just before George ends it all, Clarence, George’s guardian angel, jumps in and screams for help. George saves him and as they dry off, he tells Clarence that he wishes he were never born. Clarence grants him this wish and shows George what life would have been like for everyone without him. After seeing what a great life he had actually lived and all of the people he had helped, George begs for his life back. Clarence obliges and George returns to his family to find that his problems have been solved by his loved ones and many other citizens of Bedford Falls.  

APT explains the plot, saying, “All the characters of Bedford Falls wrapped up like a gift and presented by Nate Burger. He’s a man giddily obsessed with It’s a Wonderful Life and he’s thrilled to play each role, adding sparks of wit and wisdom as he goes. A story for all times, kindling our hearts with the fundamental goodwill the best holidays embody.”

When first viewing this play, I wondered what exactly the point of this was. Watching someone describe a story to me while simultaneously playing all of the characters seemed like a strange concept. However, the more I watched, the more I got wrapped up in the story, and I could not help but to appreciate the enthusiasm and level of detail provided by the portrayal of these iconic characters, as well as the ever so familiar plot. There was also the element of seeing this story through someone else’s eyes with rich detail and witty commentary, that only furthered my appreciation for this story. The feeling of nostalgia brought on by this performance runs deep, and I am not ashamed to admit that at one point, I paused to make a cup of hot chocolate and turn on a virtual fireplace. 

—Nicole Hansen, Intern

Watch “This Wonderful Life” now until Dec. 29: https://americanplayers.org/apt-holiday-shows