George Bailey lassos the moon this Friday night, when the original black-and-white version of “It’s a Wonderful Life” screens at the State Theatre in Portland.

Directed by Oscar-winning director Frank Capra and starring James Stewart in his best-known role, the film debuted in 1946 to rather disappointing reviews. Since then, however, it has become a must-watch Christmas classic via annual television airings and reissues on videotape, DVD and Blu-ray.

Most people have only seen the movie on the small screen. This is a rare chance to see it the way it was meant to be seen — in a movie theater.

“It’s the best Christmas film ever made,” said Lauren Wayne, general manager at the State Theatre. “I’ve wanted to show it ever since we opened.”

Around this time last year, soon after the State re-opened following an extensive renovation, it showed “The Wizard of Oz” with great success. The first screening of that film almost sold out the 1,300-seat theater.

Now, with animosity toward big banks and their Wall Street brethren at an all-time high, ticket sales in advance of “Life” have been strong. This isn’t surprising, considering that the film’s plot pits a mom-and-pop savings and loan against the evil Mr. Potter’s much larger banking enterprise. “It hits home with the economy right now,” Wayne said.

No doubt, the $6 ticket price is also working to the show’s favor in the down economy, the longest since the Great Depression. Given that, the music of local band Over a Cardboard Sea seems like a perfect fit.

“We play songs from the golden age of Tin Pan Alley,” said Timmy Findlen, who manages the band and plays ukulele. “We will probably play a few later ones to be in the same year as the film Frank Capra’s kind of a cheeseball, and so are we.”

The eclectic group begins the night at 5:30 p.m. with a performance in the lobby. When the first screening ends, the band will take the stage for a roughly 30-minute set prior to the 9:30 p.m. screening.

Over a Cardboard Sea’s roster contains 15 musicians, but for this show, it will be composed of Birdie, who handles lead vocals, Joel Eckhaus on ukulele, Dave Burd on drums and Mike Burd on bass. The band will cover tunes from well-known performers of the era, such as Rudy Vallee (who grew up in Westbrook) and Bing Crosby.

“We’re not going to be singing any Christmas carols,” Findlen said. “But our manualists will do a Christmas medley of hand farts.”

Just like the film, Over a Cardboard Sea clearly has a sense of humor.

” ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is a vision of America that never really existed,” Findlen said. “In the same way, Tin Pan Alley was creating a vision of America that didn’t ever reflect reality but evoked a feeling.”

This is an all-ages event, so children will have a chance to relay their wish lists to Santa, who will hold court in the lobby beginning at 5 p.m.

Plenty of movie munchies will be available at the concession stand, run by Po’ Boys & Pickles. Popcorn, sandwiches, scratch-made macaroons and milkshakes will be sold.

“And the bars will be open for the parents who’d like to enjoy a drink,” Wayne said. “We’ll have some kind of drink special to highlight the era too.”

For those in the throes of Christmas craziness, “It’s a Wonderful Life” offers a chance to get away from it all, at least for a couple hours.

“We rush around with the holidays and lose sight of what it’s all about,” Wayne said. “The film is about slowing down and realizing how lucky we are to be here.”

Or as the angel Clarence points out to George Bailey:

“Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

 

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