Gary Linehan, The Union Democrat

The Sierra Bible Church Drama Team will present the musical theater version of "It's a Wonderful Life" in eight performances today through Dec. 23.

Curtain times are 7 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays at 15171 Tuolumne Road east of Sonora.

Admission is free, but tickets are required. They are available by calling 532-1381, e-mailing or stopping by the church office at 15171 Tuolumne Road.

The stage version, with book, music and lyrics by Thomas M. Sharkey, is based on the classic Frank Capra film and the original story by Phillip Van Doren Stern.

Director Debi Mainard and Music Director John C. Brown are producing the musical starring Michael and Julie Ludlum as George Bailey and his wife, Mary.

Sharkey's musical keeps the opening scene with the townspeople in prayer that was cut from Capra's original film version, supporting a major theme that prayers make a difference.

"It's a Wonderful Life" is a tale of redemption and second chances for George Bailey, a frustrated businessman who is shown by an angel named Clarence (Frank Silva) what life would have been like if he never existed.

Michael Ludlum, director of acquisitions and business development at California Gold Development Co., and former CEO of Beloved Pictures, started acting in Sierra Bible Church productions in December 2006 as the character Gabriel in "Word on the Street."

Prior to that, he acted in Sierra Repertory Theatre productions after graduating from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art in 2000.

Of George Bailey's dilemma, he said, "I think 'frustration and bitterness' are apt descriptors. It's one thing to be merely frustrated at not matching reality with your dreams and goals. It's quite another to know you have the full toolbox of skills and abilities you need to achieve those goals, but constantly feel like you're tasked with overcoming yet another out-of-left-field obstacle. That constant mix of longings unfulfilled and you've-gotta-be-kidding-me saddle burrs can become pretty irritating."

Julie Ludlum is a professional actress from San Diego who has put her career on hold to care for her growing family. She is known for her acclaimed roles at SRT.

George and Mary's daughter, Zuzu, is played by Hannah Casillas.

Director Debi Mainard has acted in SBC plays for 15 years. Since her first production in "The Christmas Post," she has "held on" through training at drama seminars and conferences, into a drama ministry at SBC. Since then she has also acted in SRT productions.

"The music propels the story along," Mainard said. "It adds 'endearing warmth' that heightens the spiritual impact of George Bailey's crisis."

Under the musical direction of John C. Brown, also known for his roles at SRT, cast and ensemble members have been rehearsing intricate musical numbers since August.

Other characters include Uncle Billy Bailey (Joe Gallagher), Bert the cop (Mike Morrison), Ernie the cab driver (Lynn Warkentin), Harry Bailey (Kai Ketterman), Violet Bick (Jennifer C. Brown), head angel Joseph (Ron Woodall), George's competitor Henry Potter (Joe Skaff), his assistant (Tim Atchley), Mother Bailey (Kebra Stapp), and Mr. Gower, the pharmacist (Gary Winton).

The ensemble, which sings both on stage and off, includes Chuck Van Blaricom, Jim Quirie, Liz Peterson, Kyla Meyer, Terry Skaff, Doreen Bass, Kathy Atchley and Mary Czito.