Although I had a good time watching the play, through the first half I was unsure how much I was going to enjoy it. First of all, the actor playing young George was too old for the role and so it seemed awkward and a bit weird when he was being slapped around by Mr. Gower and crying, because he was taller than Mr. Gower. But that's a bit of a quibble; my real problem was with the actor playing adult George. I didn't find his performance throughout the first half to be particularly convincing. At first I thought that this might just be because he wasn't Jimmy Stewart, but it wasn't that... well, maybe it was that a little bit... but not for the most part. I eventually pinned down what was bothering me: he was too upbeat. In the scene with Potter at the Building & Loan following his father's death, the actor lacks the anger and intensity which George should be displaying. And when he finds out that Harry has gotten married and isn't going to be returning to Bedford Falls, he's positively cheerful. The point of these events is to pile one failed plan and broken dream upon another, gradually wearing George down. Through the first half, there's little sign of this. Talking to my sisters over coffee following the play, I found that they had been having similar thoughts.
Fortunately, after the intermission the play doesn't set a foot wrong. The actor playing George seems to settle into the role at that point, and does George's despair and desperation very well. This makes all the difference. Most of the other performances are quite good, especially that of Clarence, Angel Second Class. In the scene where Clarence struggles with Bert the cop so that George can get away, I was wondering how they were going to make him disappear and it was actually quite clever. When Clarence calls to the head angel (Joseph) for help, Joseph freezes the scene, allowing Clarence to scramble out from under Bert, sit on his back for a few seconds to catch his breath, and then run after George. After he's gone, the scene unfreezes, and Bert is left mystified and spooked.
The final scene, with the residents of Bedford Falls rushing to help George, is suitably touching. I'm not generally a crier over movies or plays, but I was moved and both of my sisters were sniffing and wiping away tears. We gave the actors an enthusiastic ovation for a job very well done. The play wasn't perfect, but it was funny and poignant... and it made me want to watch the movie again.