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'It's a Wonderful Life' set for Thomas Jefferson High School stage

| Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
Taylor Gaito, left, a member of the Thomas Jefferson High School stage crew, and Mariah Ackman, stage crew manager, work on projects for the school's fall play, 'It's a Wonderful Life.' The show is set for Nov. 16 and 17.
Carrie Lekse | West Jefferson Hills School District
Taylor Gaito, left, a member of the Thomas Jefferson High School stage crew, and Mariah Ackman, stage crew manager, work on projects for the school's fall play, 'It's a Wonderful Life.' The show is set for Nov. 16 and 17.
From left, Jessica Taimuty, grade 9; senior Zach Landers as Mr. Potter; and senior Sean Graves as George Bailey rehearse a scene from 'It's a Wonderful Life,' which will be presented Nov. 16 and 17 at Thomas Jefferson High School.
Carrie Lekse | West Jefferson Hills School District
From left, Jessica Taimuty, grade 9; senior Zach Landers as Mr. Potter; and senior Sean Graves as George Bailey rehearse a scene from 'It's a Wonderful Life,' which will be presented Nov. 16 and 17 at Thomas Jefferson High School.

Sean Graves is a little nervous these days.

As the lead in Thomas Jefferson High School's fall play, “It's a Wonderful Life,” Graves, a senior, is in 25 of the play's 31 scenes.

“I'm nervous and excited,” said Graves, 18, who is playing George Bailey, the character immortalized by Jimmy Stewart in the 1946 holiday film.

“Who wouldn't be nervous?” Graves said during a recent rehearsal in the high school auditorium.

“It's a Wonderful Life” tells the story of Bailey, a small town banker, who spends most of his time helping others and preventing the town of Bedford Falls from being taken over by Henry Potter, an evil businessman who owns most of the town and wants control of the bank, one of the few things he doesn't own. On Christmas Eve, George's Uncle Billy loses an $8,000 bank deposit which threatens the future of the bank.

George comes home in a foul mood after learning of the lost money, yells at his family, begins drinking and contemplates suicide by attempting to drive his automobile off a bridge. Fate intervenes and George hits a tree instead. And George's guardian angel, Clarence, appears.

Clarence proceeds to show George what life would be like if he never existed. In a nutshell, Bedford Falls — now called Pottersville — has become a sleazy place without George. After witnessing the demise of the town, George tells Clarence he wants to live again. Life returns to normal and Clarence earns his wings.

Julie Tipton, an English and theater teacher at Thomas Jefferson, said she chose the holiday classic which is based on the story, “The Greatest Gift” by Philip Van Doren Stern for this fall's production because of its message that everyone makes a difference.

“This is such a good story and there is something here for everyone,” said Tipton, who has been in charge of the school's fall play for nine years. “It asks, ‘Do I matter?' And it answers that everyone matters.”

Rehearsals began in September, said Tipton, adding that 85 students are involved in the production and they have been rehearsing four times a week.

Reid Campolong, a senior who plays Uncle Billy, said he is a fan of the film and has watched it several times, something he expects to do again during the Christmas holidays.

“This has been a lot of fun,” said Campolong, 17, who hopes to one day have his own software engineering company. “I wanted to change things up and try something creative.”

George's wife, Mary Bailey, is being played by Gabrielle Lamenza, a sophomore.

“This takes a lot of time out of school, but I feel real comfortable,” said Lamenza, 16, who plans on watching the movie before opening night Nov. 16. “My parents love that I am in the play and have been very supportive.”

Senior Zach Landers, 18, who plays Mr. Potter, calls his character a complex and evil man. He said his biggest challenge with the role is understanding what makes Mr. Potter who he is.

“This play has taught me to be more empathetic,” said Landers, who wants to become a writer.

Suzanne Elliott is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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