Larry Daggett has the good looks to play the leading-man type, but that’s not what inspires him to act.
“Everybody wants to be a character actor,” said Daggett, who plays more than 30 different people in the one-man show “This Wonderful Life,” which begins with previews Friday at 8 p.m. at the Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany and opens next Tuesday. “If you play the leading man, there are restrictions. You have to be very handsome and physically robust, and on top of that you can’t be angry, you can’t be mean, you can’t be conniving. You can’t be any of those things.”
In “This Wonderful Life,” Steve Murray’s play based on Frank Capra’s 1946 film “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Daggett gets to do it all. He plays all the characters in the town of Bedford Falls, including George Bailey, the character brought to life on the screen by the one and only Jimmy Stewart.
First produced in Pittsburgh in 2007, “This Wonderful Life” was most recently performed at the Cape May Stage in New Jersey with Daggett again doing all the work. And, while most actors cast in the role of George Bailey don’t go out of their way to channel Jimmy Stewart while doing their performance, that’s exactly what Daggett does.
“In this version of the play, it’s actually written into the script,” said Daggett. “You’re supposed to sound like Jimmy Stewart.”
‘This Wonderful Life’
WHAT: Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 N. Pearl St.
WHEN: Through Dec. 22
HOW MUCH: $60-$16
MORE INFO: 445-7469, www.capitalrep.org
That decision also helps the audience identify Bailey among all the other different characters played by Daggett, who wears the same shirt, pants and vest that would be worn by the main character in the time period just after World War II.
For Gazette theater writer Carol King's review of this show, click here.
“You have to make it clear to the audience who is speaking, particularly in the scenes where there are multiple characters speaking,” said Daggett. “It’s technically challenging because there are a lot of things you have to remember, along with your lines. You have to remember the height of the person you’re talking to, which is something you never have to worry about in any other play. When I’m playing Stewart I’m the tallest guy in Bedford Falls so I look down at Mary when I’m talking to her. I look down even more when I talk to my son, Pete, and even more when I talk to Janey. Then, I’m Mary talking to George and I have to look up at him. There’s all these different angles you have to be thinking about.”
Daggett is also the narrator of the story, which focuses on the life of George Bailey. A family man who becomes a bit disillusioned with his lot in life, George, through no fault of his own, finds himself in a financial situation that results in him contemplating suicide. But before he goes through with it, an angel named Clarence springs into action and gives George the gift of seeing what life would be like had he never been born.
“The movie celebrated the importance of every man or individual, and how one man can make a difference in the lives of others even though he may not always realize it,” said Daggett. “It’s the perfect Christmas story. It teaches you the basic lesson in how to find happiness, and how to be grateful for what you have, no matter how dark things may seem. The movie extolled the virtues of Americana, and reminded us to be grateful for what we have, and not be focused on what we don’t have.”
Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill, producing artistic director at Capital Rep, is directing the production.
“The story of George Bailey is in our American DNA,” she said. “This is the story of a weary, good man, who gets a second chance to understand that his life and deeds made a difference. What a gift.”
Daggett will be making his second appearance at Capital Rep, having played Col. Pickering in the 2009 production of “My Fair Lady.”
“The joy of seeing a really fine actor re-create this story of transformation, while transforming himself into all of the inhabitants of Bedford Falls, reminds me of what theater can do best; ignite the imagination and emotions,” said Mancinelli-Cahill. “It’s like sharing an evening with an old friend who knows how to tell a spellbinding story that leaves us all feeling like better friends.”
Daggett grew up in Southern California and was performing on stage by the time he was 6. After graduating from Cal State-Fullerton, he went on to get a master’s in theater at Asolo Conservatory, part of Florida State University. In 1998 he moved to New York City and got a gig on Broadway in the original production of “Ragtime,” playing Henry Ford. Daggett also sings and plays the piano.
“I prefer to call myself an actor who sings as opposed to a singer who acts, because the most important thing is telling the story,” said Daggett. “But I’ve always felt comfortable singing and dancing, and that makes a big difference in New York where there are a lot of talented actors. If the part calls for someone with vocal range, and you can dance, that eliminates a lot of people. I’ve been able to increase my opportunities to work because I can act, sing, dance and play the piano. I do a lot of musicals, but that’s fine. I love them.”
Daggett does get the opportunity to sing in “This Wonderful Life.” Unfortunately, the Capital Rep audience won’t be able to really appreciate his vocal ability.
“I do sing at one point when Bert and Ernie are singing together, and then there’s the ending when George Bailey is singing ‘Auld Lang Syne,’” said Daggett. “Of course, I have to sound like Jimmy Stewart, and if you’ve watched the movie, you know he can’t sing.”