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‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is a classic holiday movie. Now it’s also a radio play and an opera

‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is a classic holiday movie. Now it’s also a radio play and an opera
The San Francisco Opera will premiere its version of "It's a Wonderful Life" this season with Golda Schultz as the angel Clara and William Burden as George Bailey (center). (Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera)

It’s such a wonderful life. Frank Capra’s beloved 1946 film "It's a Wonderful Life" starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed tells the story of an angel named Clarence who shows George Bailey just how wonderful his life is. It has inspired an original opera making its San Francisco premiere this season and a live-cast radio play on stages throughout the country. Of course, seeing the original on the big screen is still a great experience.

San Francisco

In the San Francisco Opera's telling of the story, Clarence becomes Clara, a "second-tier angel desperate to earn her wings." Jack Heggie’s music and Gene Scheer’s libretto are original, and sung in English, and the costumes divine (lots of fluffy wings).

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“Our point was not to put the movie on stage but to correlate it musically,” Scheer said. The opera company, which co-commissioned the piece, chose to focus on how Clara learns what it means to help someone, a perfect holiday message.Tickets start at $37 for performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Dec. 1, 4, 7; and 2 p.m. Dec. 9.

Info: San Francisco Opera, sfopera.com, (415) 864-3330

Nationwide

Joe Landry’s live 1940-style radio adaptation of “Wonderful Life” seems to be on stage everywhere, from the Artists Repertory Theater in Portland, Ore. (Dec. 6 to 30, $40, www.artistsrep.org) to the St. Paul Hotel in St. Paul, Minn. (Dec. 6 to 24, $94 with dinner, saintpaulhotel.com) and the Irish Repertory Theatre in New York City (Nov. 9 to Dec. 31, $50, irishrep.org).

In Los Angeles, it’s playing at Stages Theatre in Fullerton on selected dates through Dec. 23, $20 to $22, stagesoc.org, and the Pasadena Playhouse Dec. 12 to 23, $25, pasadenaplayhouse.org.

San Pedro

James Stewart, center, embraces Donna Reed in the last scene of Frank Capra's 1946 film, "It's A Wonderful Life."
James Stewart, center, embraces Donna Reed in the last scene of Frank Capra's 1946 film, "It's A Wonderful Life." (Associated Press)

Catch this big-screen showing of the black-and-white film inside the Art Deco-style Warner Grand Theatre, which opened Jan. 20, 1931. Designed by architect B. Marcus Priteca and artist Anthony Heinsbergen, the theater (listed on the National Register of Historic Places) retains its grand move palace style, with sweeping curves and lines, and a mesmerizing sunburst ceiling. The movie will screen 6 p.m. Dec. 23; tickets cost $12 for general admission, $9 for seniors and children.

Seneca Falls, N.Y.

Seneca Falls in northern New York state lays claim to being the Bedford Falls and home to the It’s a Wonderful Life Museum (free, open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays). Its annual festival Dec. 7 to 9 will feature descendants of Frank Capra and Donna Reed as well as original cast members Karolyn Grimes, Carol Coombs and Jimmy Hawkins, who played the Bailey children Zuzu, Janie and Tommy, respectively. There are meet-and-greets with the cast (such as the $35 “There’s a Moon Out Tonight” event) and other activities. This story will tell you more about the museum.

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