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Nothing says holiday tradition than getting together with family and watching a Christmas special on television or in person.

The cast and crew of this year’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life” is taking the family thing to an entirely new level. Included in the more than 30 people involved are groups from seven different families. “There are so many family units involved, and that makes this production very special,” said Jeff Edblad, who plays George Bailey in the timeless classic. 

He added: “It’s very unique that way. The fact that there are so many families coming together for something of this magnitude has been a neat thing for me to see.”

This is the seventh year that Tim and Viva Anderson’s production company, Center State Productions, has teamed with Northern Lights Ballroom & Banquet Center to put on a holiday-themed dinner and a show.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” will have three dinner shows this season. Friday and Saturday shows start with 6 p.m. dinner followed by the 7 p.m. play. Sunday’s matinee features a noon dinner followed by a 1 p.m. performance.

“It’s a perfect fit at Northern Lights,” said Viva Anderson, who also directed Princeton High School’s fall production of “Meet Me in St. Louis.”

“We have a great relationship. A dinner theater is a different animal and venue. There are different things to look at when getting everything ready. We get to fulfill people’s needs with a wonderful night out, and you don’t have to drive into the cities to do it. Northern Lights offers a phenomenal northern experience for people. We bring a sense of holiday tradition to a lot of people by providing a show like this.”

The play was written by Philip Doren Stern in 1939 and turned into the movie in 1946.

It revolves around George Bailey, who has so many problems he is thinking about ending it all.

As the angels discuss George, the audience sees his life in flashback. As George is about to jump from a bridge, he ends up rescuing his guardian angel, Clarence — who then shows George what his town would have become had it not been for all his good deeds over the years.

“We started out wanting to do something for the community years ago,” said Bryony Stark, manager at Northern Lights. “We have a really great relationship with Tim and Viva. They do a fabulous job. Tim makes the stage and backdrops, and it looks amazing.

“This event has really grown. It’s fun and is a family tradition. Families come out every year, and local businesses bring staff members. It’s a fun night out with a three-course meal, then sit and enjoy the play.”

It’s a family affair

Calling this year’s show a family affair isn’t an exaggeration. Edblad will be performing with his daughter, Jillian, who plays Violet Bick. It also includes a three-generation family of grandmother Pam Hochhalter, daughter Sasha Wieczorek and grandson Zach Wieczorek.

Also in the production are the father-mother-daughter trio of Keith, BeckaJo and Bella Bredeson, father-son Tom and Nicholas Kase, father-daughter Mark Bell and Gracie Becklin, brothers Brian and David Muhs, and the mother-daughter duo of Lisa and Ruby Schroeder.

“Community theater gives people the opportunity to bring their gifts and talents to the performance stage,” Anderson said. “Cast members envelope their character and portray someone who lived in another time and another place. Costuming is based on the time era, and lighting and sound cues are added to enhance the performance and bring into the story. This particular script is written for a smaller cast, lending opportunity for doubling of characters, without losing the storyline that is so well known.”

Experienced cast, crew

Edblad, who is in his seventh term as Isanti County attorney, recently returned to the stage after more than 20 years away. A father of three, he spent the last two decades helping coach his sons in athletics along with serving as the public address voice of the Cambridge-Isanti High School boys swimming and diving team.

He got back on stage when Jillian invited him to try out for “Beauty and the Beast.” He’s since been involved with “Mary Poppins” and will perform in the “Hunchback of Notre Dame,” which starts rehearsals next month.

“It’s been a joy to be back on stage. I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I got back into it,” Edblad said. “The thing that has been so rewarding about it is being able to participate in an activity with one of your kids and participate in an activity that is something that means a lot to them. To be a part of your kids’ activities in something they love and something they’re very good at, that’s been the joy for me. Being back on stage is fun, but the true joy is participating in something that means a lot to my daughter.”

The show also features the technical expertise of Chuck Vrchota, the lighting and sound director. He and Viva Anderson met several years ago the Minnesota Thespians Convention and have worked together since.

Vrchota retired two years ago from the IT business, but remains heavily involved in theatrical production. “It’s a Wonderful Life” will be his 331st production. He lives in Veblen, South Dakota, but returns to east central Minnesota for the opportunity to work with the Andersons.

“We’re a very creative and open team,” said Vrchota, who also will play Uncle Billy in this play. “Each one of us brings a different aspect to the show. I’m a tech guy, Viva blends so well with people and is very creative, and Tim has got artistic ability on the sets, and the three of us come together to do a great show. I’m looking forward to getting back and acting with friends that I haven’t seen in the last couple years.”

Tickets are $39.95 per person and includes dinner. For ticket availability information, call Northern Lights at 320-369-4622.

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