Saturday February 24th 2018

“It’s A Wonderful Life: The Musical” reviewed by Jeffrey Leibham

A wonderful life, it is. At least for George Bailey. More than just the title has been altered in Theatre at the Center’s holiday presentation of “A Wonderful Life: The Musical.” Sheldon Harnick, who wrote the book and lyrics for this show, had the daunting task of adapting the beloved 1946 Frank Capra film It’s a Wonderful Life for the stage. Some minor cuts had to be made, that’s understandable, as the insertion of over twenty musical numbers adds a considerable amount of minutes to the entire running time of the show. Many of the scenes from the movie are only alluded to or mentioned in the script rather than actually dramatized, especially in Act I. Sadly, there is no Mr. Gower in this version. What does remain is a solid story which nearly everyone is familiar with. The 32 scenes swiflty unfold under the efficient direction of William Pullinsi.

The music, by Joe Raposo, is mostly up-beat in tempo which serves the material well. Mr. Raposo, who had a long career involved in children’s television (namely Sesame Street) and writing theme songs for hit TV shows has composed songs that are serviceable if not memorable. Act I opens and closes with George at a railroad crossing singing “George’s Prayer.” At the top of the show he is beautifully supported vocally by the entire ensemble on stage with him. By the act’s end he is alone and in a precarious emotional state. For you see, the one drastic change from the motion picture is that in this version of “A Wonderfu Life: The Musical” George chooses to end his life by jumping in front of a speeding train rather than by diving into the icy water of Bedford Falls. An interesting substition, with George literally at a crossroads in his life.

David Sajewich, who plays George Bailey, does an incredible job of making this role uniquely his own. With his dashing good looks and easy smile, Mr. Sajewich’s George is affable and instantly appealing. It’s easy to see why success would come so effortlessly to someone like him, as if he were the star quarterback for his high school’s football team, yet remaining humble even after a major victory. Mr. Sajewich’s voice is rich and melodious during the course of the performance, but it is during the scene in Zuzu’s bedroom during Act II (“Precious Little”) that his acting abilities combine with that magnificent voice to create a powerful stage image. The reprise of “George’s Prayer” which immediately follows is stirring and Mr. Sajewich is visibly shaken as a very desperate and hopeless man. Allison Sill, who plays Mary, is very practical in her approach to playing the role. She does well in her duets with George. However, the arrangement of her only solo number (“I Couldn’t Be With Anyone But You”) seems much too high for her range and made her voice sound shrill.  James Harms plays Mr. Potter, a character confined to a wheelchair during the entire show. Mr. Harms is thus forced to utilize his considerable vocal skills and facial expressions to create the despicably rotten richest man in town. Too bad that Mr. Harms only gets one musical number in this show (“First Class All the Way”) but he makes the most of it.  David Perkovich plays Clarence, who is George’s guardian angel and shows George what life in Bedford Falls (now named Pottersville) would be like if George had never been born. Mr. Perkovich is clearly having fun playing this iconic role and is adorable in his big number (“Wings”) as he dances around heaven accompanied by a group of pretty female angels.

Choreographer Gordon Peirce Schmidt has created fluid movement for a very large ensemble. The peak of his talents here occurs in the gym scene (“In a State”) in which numerous dancers execute The Charleston and the following sequence (“A Wonderful Life”). Costume Designer Brenda Winstead has created a huge array of costumes, many worn by extras who are used to enhance background, especially in scenes at the train station, the bank, on downtown streets or in the Bailey Building and Loan office. Some of her creations are glimpsed on stage for less than one minute, but her attention to detail in all of the costumes was not overlooked. Also deserving special mention are Lighting Designer Denise Karczewski and Sound Designer Barry G. Funderburg for the danger and apprehension felt as that speeding train approaches. Brittney O’Keefe’s design of Ernie’s taxi cab got a jolly chuckle from the audience as George and Clarence pedal around the stage to visit several locales during the “Unborn Sequence.”

“A Wonderful Life: The Musical” is a good choice for family-friendly holiday fare. As the final song in the show attests and Sheldon Harnicks lyrics ring in your ears as you leave the theater, the greatest gift this Christmas season is simply the gift of life itself.

 

INFO:
“A Wonderful Life: The Musical” is playing now through December 23.

Wednesdays and Thursdays                       2:00 PM

Fridays                                                                 7:30 PM

Saturdays                                                            3:00 PM and 7:30 PM

Sundays                                                               2:30 PM

with select Tuesday afternoon and Thursday evening performances, including a special 2:00 PM matinee on December 22.

Theatre at the Center is located at 1040 Ridge Road in Munster, IN with plenty of free parking. The venue is accessible from I-80/94, just 30 minutes from downtown Chicago.

Individual ticket prices range from $40 to $44. To purchase individual tickets, call the Box Office at 219-836-3255. For more information on Theatre at the Center, please visit www.TheatreAtTheCenter.com

 

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “It’s A Wonderful Life: The Musical”

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