By Don Corrigan
This time of year, Branson is full of lights and color and holiday cheer. And Silver Dollar City has a Christmas Parade that’s perfect to cap off a day of entertainment that includes, It’s A Wonderful Life, and other great shows.
Frankly, the live theatre production of It’s A Wonderful Life at Silver Dollar City breathes new life into a movie that airs too frequently on television this time of year. It’s so refreshing to get a new, musical take on what is admittedly one of the most critically acclaimed films ever made.
Celebrated director Frank Capra referred to the film as his personal favorite of all his movies. Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore and Henry Travers all deliver memorable performances in the Capra favorite – and the ensemble in Branson lives up to their legacy.
My only criticism is that the Silver Dollar City production doesn’t make more of Uncle Billy and his pet squirrel as found in the movie production. And Silver Dollar City is the perfect locale to capitalize on the antics of a trouble-making squirrel.
Read more below.
George Bailey presumably employs the blundering Uncle Billy out of family obligation, if not the kindness of his heart. However, Billy has a role at the bank well above his pay grade and he fouls things up royally when he misplaces a large sum of the bank’s money.
That crucial mistake puts the bank on the edge of insolvency and sets off a chain of events which finally lead his nephew, George Bailey, to contemplate self-destruction on Christmas Eve. His family is spared a tragedy, and Bailey is saved, only through the intervention of the strange fellow named Clarence Odbody. Clarence happens to be an Angel, 2nd Class, who is back on Earth to try to earn his wings. If he can save the despairing Bailey, he can make it back to heaven with a pair of wings and first class status. And he does just that!
Uncle Billy has endured his share of criticism for the savings and loan crisis in Bedford Falls, a calamity that even heaven could not ignore. He has been accused of obsessing over his pets, especially his squirrel. He engages in this tomfoolery, rather than minding the savings and loans’ assets, which are so critical to the average citizens of Bedford Falls.
Despite his carelessness, the errant Uncle Billy and his squirrel have been immortalized, not only because of the Christmas season production, but also because they are the subject of questions in trivia contests year-round throughout America. What pets did Uncle Billy own? What troublesome animal appears both in It’s A Wonderful Life and Christmas Vacation? How much cash did Uncle Billy and his squirrel actually misplace to cause such a crisis in Bedford Falls?
Trivia contest questions aside, there’s nothing squirrelly at all about this production of It’s A Wonderful Life at Silver Dollar City. But maybe a little time for a squirrel cameo wouldn’t hurt.
(Reviewer Don Corrigan is the author of the McFarland Publishing 2019 selection, “Nuts About Squirrels: The Rodents That Captured Popular Culture.”)