Cherry Hill East Theatre hoping to help those in need with fall play, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

In conjunction with the show, Cherry Hill East Theatre is holding a fundraiser to raise money for hurricane relief.

Courtney Bird, playing the role of Mary Bailey in the white cast, and Harrison Smith, playing the role of George Bailey in the white cast, practice a dance number during a rehearsal for Cherry Hill High School East’s fall play, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

The cast of Cherry Hill High School East’s 2017 fall play, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” is hoping this year’s show has a larger impact than previous fall plays.

In addition to putting on four performances of the play on Dec. 1, 2, 8 and 9 at 7:30 p.m., Cherry Hill East Theatre will hold a fundraiser for hurricane relief, encouraging the community to give back.

“We thought with the recent tragedies in Puerto Rico and across the world, we wanted to give something back to others,” said junior Kevin Naddeo, playing the role of George Bailey in the red cast. “So we decided as a company to raise $8,000.”

The $8,000 goal comes directly from the story of the show. The play is a theatrical adaptation of the popular 1946 film of the same name. In the show, George Bailey becomes depressed and suicidal after his Uncle Billy loses an $8,000 deposit for Bailey’s Building and Loan. Henry Potter, the show’s main protagonist, discovers the lost $8,000 and hides it in hopes of causing issues for Building and Loan. After this series of events, Bailey contemplates suicide, but a guardian angel named Clarence saves him and shows Bailey an alternative reality where he doesn’t exist.

Toward the end of the show, Bailey asks for his life back, and upon running home, discovers the town of Bedford Falls had raised enough money to cover the missing $8,000 deposit. The show’s ending was the inspiration behind Cherry Hill East Theatre’s fundraiser.

In the weeks leading up to the show, Cherry Hill East Theatre is collecting donations through a Crowdrise campaign. Residents can donate at www.crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/its-a-wonderful-life-che-fundraiser/kevinnaddeo1.

During the show’s performances, guests will have a chance to put in money toward raffle baskets to win a variety of prizes. Cherry Hill East Theatre is partnering with a number of local businesses to have baskets donated.

The theater company chose for the money to go directly to hurricane relief efforts, as the group wanted to have a positive impact on people in need outside of Cherry Hill.

Cassie Cuddihy, playing the role of Mary Bailey in the red cast, and Kevin Naddeo, playing the role of George Bailey in the red cast, rehearse the ninth scene of Cherry Hill High School East’s fall play, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

“We wanted to let as much money as we could count,” said senior Harrison Smith, playing the role of George Bailey in the white cast.

The cast’s main goal with the play is to give the audience a good feeling when they leave the auditorium. A number of the cast members have fond memories of watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” with their families and enjoy how the film ends.

“’It’s a Wonderful Life’ is a tradition that my family has watch since I was little,” said junior Cassie Cuddihy, playing the role of Mary Bailey in the red cast. “So I was really excited. This is a show where I was familiar with the movie.”

“It tackles very serious issues such as suicide, depression and what it means to be successful, but it also does it in a heartwarming way,” Smith added.

A few cast members, such as junior Jayson Borenstein, hadn’t seen the movie before it was announced to be the high school’s fall play. However, Borenstein said it didn’t take long for him to fall in love with the show.

“I had never seen the movie before when I found out we were doing the show,” said Borenstein, who is playing the role of Henry Potter in both casts. “But when I found out and watched it, I found out, ‘Wow, this was amazing. It actually made me feel good at the end.’”

There are a few differences between the movie and the play, but the cast members talked of how they can be a little more creative with how they portray their characters. Borenstein said his version of Potter is a bit different than the one people see in the movie.

Jayson Borenstein, playing the role of Henry Potter, gets animated for a scene in the show (left). Harrison Smith, playing the role of George Bailey in the white cast, practices a scene with Jack Granite, playing the role of Uncle Billy (right).

“In the movie, he’s a very big kind of guy and I’m physically not like that,” Borenstein said. “So I put a Mr. Burns twist on him. So I made him a little more hunched over and crippled looking and sinister than he is in the movie.”

Sophomore Thomas Zieger, playing the role of the guardian angel Clarence in both casts, also put a unique touch on his character.

“Clarence from the movie is supposed to be a dumber character,” he said. “But I think, with my character, I try to incorporate the most fun that I can. I want everyone in the audience to look at me and smile.”

The cast is excited to perform a holiday show and looks forward to bringing smiles to the audience’s faces. Smith believes the community should see the show to get away from the hustle and bustle of the holiday season for a few hours.

“One of the greatest parts about theater is you can sit down for three hours and be in a completely different world,” Smith said. “You don’t have to worry about your struggles.”

“The overall idea is that it’s about a community coming together,” Naddeo added.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” will take the stage at the Cherry Hill East auditorium on Friday, Dec. 1 and 8 and Saturday, Dec. 2 and 9. All shows are scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. There are two casts for the show, with the red cast performing on Friday and the white cast on Saturday. Tickets are $14 per person. Seniors with a gold card can purchase tickets for $5. Tickets can be purchased one hour prior to the start of each show or in advance by calling the Cherry Hill East Theatre box office at (856) 424–2222 ext. 2019.