"Don't you just HATE nice people?" bratty Henry Potter Jr. exclaims early in the first act of this brand new melodrama based on the classic story and film.

Potter and his lying, cheating old man are the villains this time around, but the rest of the characters fall into the "nice" category in a show that's brimful of Christmas spirit and fun.At the Desert Star Playhouse, we've discovered, the amount of enjoyment you get out of the show pretty much depends on how responsive the audience is. The more booing, hissing, cheering and off-the-cuff remarks there are from the audience add considerably to what you'll see on the working side of the footlights.

On opening night, both the audience and the cast were in great form. And it didn't hurt to have have a pair of clowns like Gary Winterholler and Eric Jensen, both longtime DSP regulars, who built an instant and comfortable rapport with the crowd.

Basically, this melodrama-musical version follows the same plotline of the Jimmy Stewart movie, a perennial Christmas classic.

Winterholler, who plays the lead role of George Bailey, has the same lanky, laid-back folksy style of Stewart, just ambling along, being a general Mr. Nice Guy.

Doddering Uncle William Bailey is played by Jensen, who's back doing what he does best at Desert Star - acting like someone long overdue for the old folks' home.

The big departure from the original story is that Bailey's hard-working guardian angel is a female - Clarissa Oddbody, ASC (Angel Second Class), who is desperate to help Bailey out of a jam so that she can earn her wings.

Other members of Shawn Maxfield's excellent cast include Sharon Kenison as George's wife, Mary; Harlin Jones as the villainous elder Potter (Jones isn't content to just steal money, he steals scenes, too); Alisa Harris as the ditzy Violet Buxley; Bill Morey as her straight-arrow boyfriend/cop; and Jacob and Kirsten Kenison as George and Mary's children.

With music arranged and played by Val David Smithson, choreography by Sharon Kenison and wonderful sets and scenery by Frank Ackerman, the show starts off with a brief flashback (1928) to give some insight into hero George Bailey as a younger man, then shifts to 1945, when the Potters are hell-bent on taking over the town of Bedford Falls.

Smithson, author Brent Todd and director Maxfield have worked in several clever lyrics into the show, such as the Potters singing "Master Profiteer" (to the tune of "Master of the House," from "Les Miserables"), George and Bill Bailey praising World War II hero Harry Bailey with "If His Friends Could See Him Now!" and Clarissa belting out "The Brotherhood of Man."

There are some fine special effects, too, especially when depressed George leaps off the Bedford Falls Bridge.

The cast really gets to strut its stuff in the post-show olios, designed this time as a cast Christmas party. There are plenty of great tunes, but the real knockout is Winterholler, Jensen and Gibbs, in their cute little kids' pajamas, cavorting through "I'm Gettin' Nuttin' fer Christmas."

Desert Star's Sweet Tooth Saloon now has table service featuring fresh popcorn, hot Domino's pizza, hand-dipped ice cream treats, and fountain drinks - everything in place for a night out with the family.