, Muskogee, OK

December 5, 2013

Having a ‘Wonderful’ time

By Leilani Roberts Ott
Phoenix Correspondent

— Jimmy Stewart, who portrayed George Bailey in the 1946 movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” has been reincarnated as Brian Kuester.

The Oklahoma District 27 district attorney is starring in his first Muskogee Little Theatre production, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which opens at 8 p.m. today with additional shows at 8 p.m. Saturday, Thursday, Dec. 13 and 14; and 2 p.m. Sunday at the theater at D and Cincinnati streets. Tickets are $15, adults, and $12, students.

Like many first-time theater actors, the Broken Arrow resident brought his daughter, Olivia Kuester, 11, to try out for a part. She would up with the role of George’s daughter Janie. She said being in the play is “amazing.” She thinks her father is doing a great job.

Speaking backstage during a dress rehearsal, Kuester said: “I’m very glad I’m doing it, but it wasn’t part of the plan. One reason I wanted to do it is because it has a great message of hope.”

The storyline focuses on George Bailey, who has given up on his dreams and threatens suicide when his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody, played by Jim McClure, saves him. Throughout the play, Clarence shows George how his life has made a difference in the lives of others in his hometown of Bedford Falls, especially his true love, Mary Hatch, played by Tawny Easterling.

Kuester said Easterling had been a big help to him along with the other MLT pros such as Cary Pruitt, Ben Robinson and Lee Griffin.

This is Easterling’s ninth show with MLT. Her first was the musical “Chicago.”

“This role is different,” she said. “It’s easier to play over-exaggerated. This is a challenge. I’m having a very good time.” Speaking of Kuester, she added: “I’ve said he reminds me of Jimmy Stewart.”

Coni Wetz, executive director for MLT, agreed it’s remarkable how much Kuester reminds everyone of Stewart — even his voice is similar. She said the chemistry between Kuester and Easterling on stage is good even though they have about a 20-year difference in age. This is the first time MLT has done “It’s a Wonderful Life,” she said.

Stan Cole, who portrays Uncle Billy, has had roles at MLT for about 20 years.

“George Bailey is doing a wonderful job,” Cole said.

Cole said being a part of this play is good because of the good age group mixture.

Robinson, who portrays Mr. Martini, agreed.

“It’s nice to be with so many young people,” he said. “It’s such a fun play.”

The smallest star is Grace Lynch, 10, a student at Tony Goetz Elementary School. She plays Zuzu Bailey, the other daughter of George and Mary Bailey. She is quick to point out that her mother, Rory Lynch, is part of the stage crew.

“I’ve done tons of these,” Grace said of her theater roles. “I really like it. I watch it every night before I go to sleep.”

Her new theater friend, Olivia, said, “It’s a long movie.”

“It takes me a long time to go to sleep,” Grace said.

Grace has the play’s most famous line: “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.”

From this littlest actress to the veteran players, it takes everyone to put on the show. Griffin, who portrays Mr. Gower, and other artists including Wren Stratton, who plays Mother Bailey, painted an 8-foot “Christmas card” — as the cast calls it — of the street scene in Bedford Falls. It is the backdrop for the play. Griffin said that with each rehearsal, he sees things he needs to add — such as stained glass windows to the church.

Director Sarah Turner, who has been an actor or director of numerous shows, said this cast has had lots of fun. She’s especially likes working with new people such as Kuester.

“George is just wonderful,” she said. “His daughter said ‘He’s very dramatic.’ And he’s never seen the movie. He’s grown every single night.”

Turner encourages the community to come out for a good family show.

“This is everybody’s favorite show,” she said. “I’m so happy we’re doing this one.”

If you go

WHAT: “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

WHEN: 8 p.m. today, Saturday, Thursday, Dec. 13 and 14; and 2 p.m. Sunday.

WHERE: Muskogee Little Theatre, at D and Cincinnati streets.

TICKETS: $15, adults; $12, students; available in advance at Soundworld, (918) 683-4901; or at the door.

SPONSORS: Armstrong Bank, Oklahoma Arts Council, National Endowment for the Arts.

The cast and crew

George Bailey — Brian Kuester.

Clarence Odbody — Jim McClure.

Mr. Gower — Lee Griffin.

Young George — Jack Richardson.

Harry Bailey — Andy Herringshaw.

Mother Bailey — Wren Stratton.

Aunt Tilly — Terral Graybill.

Violet Peterson — Angelina Cummings.

Bert — Ray Jenkins.

Ernie — Mike Carrels.

Uncle Billy — Stan Cole.

Mary Hatch Bailey — Tawny Easterling.

Henry F. Potter — Cary Pruitt.

Mr. Potter’s goon — Cindy Schuering.

Mr. Potter’s secretary — Jessica Van Voast.

Mrs. Hatch — Janie Riddle.

Sam Wainwright — Ray Jenkins.

Miss Andrews — Mary Beth Nelson.

Mrs. Thompson — Kesa McDonald.

Mr. Martini — Ben Robinson.

Mrs. Martini — Tearsa Innis.

Miss Carter — Shannon Johnson.

Newspaper boy — Grayson Willis.

Pete Bailey — Jack Richardson.

Tommy Bailey — Tommy Woodburn.

Zuzu Bailey — Grace Lynch.

Mr. Welch — Dan Howard.

Janie Bailey — Olivia Kuester.

Carolers — Madison Eckerson, Lyndsey Eckerson, Rosie McClure, Jade Kinnison, Grace Lynch, Madison Riddle and Olivia Kuester.

Director — Sarah Turner.

Stage manager — Susan Winters.

Producer — Sheryl Thygesen and Nancy Gaden.

Light and sound design — Chris Gilmartin and Seth Chapuis.

Artistic design — Wren Stratton, Julia Chapman, Lee Griffin, Karla Harcrow and Shannon Johnson.

Stage crew — Dee Raney and Rory Lynch.