Times Colonist (Victoria) Saturday, November
Arts B1 / FRONT Backstage
by Adrian Chamberlain
Being of a restless and inquisitive nature, I'm always on the prowl for alternative forms of Christmas entertainment.
For instance, when it comes to a choice between (a) listening to ruddy-cheeked children singing Christmas carols, or (b) buying
a skanky Santa costume at Value Village, donning a horrifying Freddy Krueger mask and chasing ruddy-cheeked children singing
Christmas carols, I'll always choose "b". No question. So you can imagine my
shrieks of delight when I learned that a stage version of the 1946 Christmas movie classic, It's a Wonderful Life, is coming
to Victoria next Tuesday. What's that you say? Not particularly alternative? I beg to differ.
You see, New York actor Jason Grossman does it as a one-man show. He plays all 33-plus characters himself. A master
impressionist, 37-year-old Grossman will do Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore and a host of others. He'll even do an impression of Karolyn Grimes, who, if you remember, played little Zuzu in the film. (The
former child star, by the way, is a fan of Grossman's show. She told me so herself. More on that later.)
Since 2000, Grossman has performed the show 25 times. This season he'll do it 15 more. He's a fanatical fan of the
flick. Even before he did his own show, Grossman had watched It's a Wonderful Life 120 times. Since then he's seen it countless
times more. To prepare for the stage version, he used to trudge the streets of his native Manhattan, listening to the soundtrack
on his Walkman over and over. It sounds like it'll be a fun night out (the show's
at Langham Court Theatre on Tuesday -- one performance only). Grossman's one-man epic has been well reviewed by the Village
Voice ("outstanding") and Time Out New York ("enormously skillful").
Although his tour de force has gleaned considerable critical acclaim, the road to solo success was lined with occasional
pot-holes. The comic actor/writer/stand-up-comedian recalls doing a few less-than-successful parodies of It's a Wonderful
Life prior to the main event. One was called It's a Wonderful Slice. It was about a guy who works in a pizzeria ('nuff said).
Another bit was titled It's a Wonderful Vice. In that one, the Jimmy Stewart character decides he prefers a wonderful life
of boozing and debauched mayhem to being married to nice Donna Reed (my choice would be Reed and the debauchery). While audiences
appreciated the technique behind It's a Wonderful Vice, they did not find it a laugh riot.
"Someone said, 'That really isn't very funny. But you captured the characters very well,' " said Grossman from New
York. Performing his show has led to a few unusual experiences. There was, for example, the time Grossman got to meet and
hang out with Karolyn Grimes (Zuzu). He came across her It's a Wonderful Life tribute Web site (http://www.zuzu.net/home.html) and e-mailed her. The pair corresponded, and later met when Grossman performed
his show in Seattle, where Grimes lives.
She even showed him her personal collection of It's a Wonderful Life memorabilia -- old lobby cards, signed scripts
and so forth. Grimes was a trouper -- she'd broken her ankle just a few hours before. "She had a wonderful spirit about her
and it really didn't seem to faze her," said Grossman.
The actress and a group of her friends even attended Grossman's show a few days later. He was horribly nervous. Not
only was a member of the original movie cast there, but some of Grimes' friends were experts who'd actually written books
on the movie. "Come showtime, I was as nervous as I've ever been for a performance.
Especially since she was in a wheelchair because of her broken ankle. I was thinking, 'This better be a great show.'
" It was. This week I left a message for Grimes on her Website, thinking I'd better check this Grossman character out. Grimes
graciously phoned me back an hour later, praising his amazing memory, his funny props and the fact that, even though his show
is amusing, he actually takes the movie seriously. "He got the movie so to speak," said the 60-something Grimes, who today
keeps busy as an introductory speaker when It's a Wonderful Life is screened for charitable events.
She thrilled Grossman by giving him a little bell inscribed with her famous line: " Every time a bell rings an angel
get its wings." For her part, Grimes says her only regret upon meeting Grossman was being confined to the wheelchair. "I wasn't
able to get out and party with him," said the woman who played little Zuzu.
It's a Wonderful (One-Man Show)
Life plays Dec. 3, 8 p.m. at Langham Court Theatre Tickets are $14 and $10. Call Intrepid Theatre at 383-2663. firstname.lastname@example.org