Jeff Hyslop could almost feel how cold the characters felt in the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life.
It’s felt especially as George Bailey in the 1946 American drama contemplates suicide, staring into the icy waters of the town of Bedford Falls, considering his past, while struggling with choices.
“I could just imagine how cold that must have been,” said Hyslop.
Hyslop watched the show for the first time at about 10 years old.
He’s now playing It’s a Wonderful Life’s Uncle Billy in the Chemainus Theatre Festival’s version of the classic tale, taking the stage Nov. 22.
“We’ve all landed in a nice warm and cozy place. It feels like we’ve won the lottery,” Hyslop said of his fellow cast and the crew members.
“It’s kind of a gift, isn’t it? It’s definitely a nice segue for me.”
East Side Vancouver native Hyslop, who’s known as Phantom of the Opera to many thanks to 1,000 performances of the Lloyd-Webber musical, has also played parts in Cabaret, Kiss of the Spider Woman, and A Chorus Line in London and on Broadway.
And now he’s slipping into the very unstable — sometimes warm and fuzzy, other times miserable — boozer Uncle Billy’s shoes.
“It’s an amazing roller coaster ride,” said Hyslop. “Uncle Billy is quite unstable. It’s very much the up and down of a roller coaster. But it does make for a very interesting journey.”
Hyslop says he hasn’t had one person who’s not said to him upon hearing about his role, “You’re the guy who loses the money.”
“We’ve all lived there,” he said of Billy’s ups and downs and screw-ups. “The ups and downs can be very much the same as an actor’s.”
Hsylop’s quite tickled to play a role for the first time in this classic adaptation on the Chemainus Theatre’s stage.
“One of the hooks for me was (original actress) Donna Reed,” he said, reverting back to his boyhood feelings on the gal who played Mary. “I had the biggest crush.”
That and fond memories of his family watching the show at an age when he still held hope in Santa and believed an angel could be real as well.
But his innocent mind then didn’t delve into It’s a Wonderful Life’s theme on suicide.
“Instead, I remember drowning. Just the feeling of not being able to breath,” he reflected.
Chemainus Theatre’s musical version is being directed and choreographed by Peter Jorgensen, who’s known at the Festival Inn for past Mural Town productions Fiddler on the Roof and Guys & Dolls.
“The great thing about this holiday story is how easily it is enjoyed by people of all types,” says Jorgensen, who’s keeping the show close to its origins.
“Of course, the musical is based on a legendary film with big boots to fill. That’s where the theatrical experience stands out, there’s nothing else as intense and satisfying as being in a room with the incredible actors living the tale right before your eyes.”
Also appearing on stage will be David Leyshon (Guys & Dolls) as main man George Bailey, Alison MacDonald (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat) as wife, Mary Bailey, Barbara Pollard (Emily Carr) as Mother Bailey, David Marr as guardian angel Clarence, Tim Dixon as businessman Henry Potter, Graham Coffeng as friend, Sam Wainwright, Gordon Roberts as Joseph and Gower the aging druggist, Becky Hachey as flirt Violet, and Damon Calderwood as Marty.
Hyslop’s worked with several of the players, including director Jorgensen and actor Roberts, as well as watched Marr and Pollard in action on stage.
“It’s really a creamy cast, with every level of spectacular imaginable,” he boasted. “What we’re bringing is 100 years of acting experience to the stage.”
It’s a Wonderful Life is popular among all generations due to its universal appeal.
The plot of the musical remains true to the Frank Capra film of the same name, from the familiar “every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings,” through to the Christmas Eve escapades that take place in the town.
The Chemainus production will feature more than a dozen broadway-style melodies and songs led by musical director Nico Rhodes (previously in The Festival’s A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline, Anything Goes, Tonight Piaf and The Tales of Hans Christian Andersen), and accompanied by musicians Alicia Murray and Marisha Devoin.
What: It’s a Wonderful Life
Where: Chemainus Theatre Festival Inn
When: Wednesday through Sundays, Nov. 22 to Dec. 31, with matinee and evening shows.
Tickets: online or 1-800-565-7738.