Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Review of "It's a Wonderful Life"

The beloved movie classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, comes to the Goodspeed Opera House stage in a faithful, yet disappointing production.  The musical, with a book by Sheldon Harnick, follows the storyline from the film, but there are few flourishes in the show that would make this a captivating treat.

As in the movie, George Bailey (Duke Lafoon) yearns to attend college and see the world, but life’s unsuspecting circumstances interfere with his plans.  While his brother and friends move on and away from their Bedford Falls, NY home George stays put to run the family’s Savings & Loan.  He marries his old flame Mary Hatch (Kirsten Scott), starts a family, and continuously defends his business from the nefarious banker Henry Potter (Ed Dixon).  One day George’s Uncle Billy (Michael Medeiros) misplaces a hefty bank deposit.  Potter, seizing on the situation, contacts the authorities to arrest the good-hearted soul for embezzlement.  With his life suddenly in tatters George realizes he is worth more to his family dead then alive and considers taking his life.  Enter Clarence (Frank Vlastnik), his guardian angel, who saves George and shows him what the world would be like if he was never born.   George realizes how loved he is, the money problem is resolved, and Clarence gains his angel wings.  A happy, holiday ending ensues.

The acting corps puts in a good, but mostly undistinguished effort.  They are also hindered by the rather matter-of-fact book and lackluster score.  Duke Lafoon gives his portrayal of George Bailey a harried and demoralized slant.  While doing his best “aw shucks” routine he often rushes through his scenes where a more methodical, easy-going manner would have sufficed.  Kirsten Scott turns in a pleasant performance as George’s true love, Mary.  But there is not much that is done to elevate her character beyond the role of a loving, supporting wife.  In the featured roles, Michael Medeiros is suitably befuddled as Uncle Billy.  Frank Vlastnik brings a whimsical charm to the role of Clarence.

The score by Broadway legend Sheldon Harnick (Fiddler on the Roof, The Rothchilds, She Loves Me) and Joe Raposo (known for his work on television’s Sesame Street) is uninspiring and lacks any memorable songs.  It is more a dutiful then soaring work.

This is not a musical that provides many opportunities to showcase choreographic flourishes.  Nonetheless, when choreographer Parker Esse is given the chance he weaves in dance numbers that make the production come alive.  This is evident in the Charleston contest at the high school gym and the Act Two opener, “Wings.”

Director Michael Perlman’s big task is to keep the pacing of the musical on track through its 30 separate scene changes.  He succeeds for much of the show, but there is mainly a perfunctory feel to the production.   As a magical tale there could have been more sprightliness and vibrancy to the show.

It’s a Wonderful Life, playing at the Goodspeed Opera House through November 29th.

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