La Comedia Dinner Theatre in Springboro, Ohio, continues their tradition of capping the end of the calendar year season with a Christmas-themed show. This year, they bring back their full-fledged musical version of the movie classic It's A Wonderful Life. With a talented cast, an expansive design, and functional material, the production is likely to please La Comedia holiday audiences.
With only a few minor alterations, this version of It's A Wonderful Life is a very faithful musical adaptation of the film. The show follows the story of George Bailey and the residents of small town Bedford Falls from 1921 to 1945. George continually shows kindness and devotion to his town throughout his life, often at the sacrifice of his own dreams to travel the world. When George contemplates desperate measures on Christmas Eve 1945, following a mishap at the building and loan that he runs, it is up to his guardian angel named Clarence to show George just how much he's meant to everyone in town, and beyond.
The book, provided by Susan Kern and Jerry Lowe, closely resembles the screenplay of the well-known film. A number of plot points are described rather than shown, the settings for several scenes are changed, and some minor items dropped, but the story remains overall the same. While dialogue is generally well written, the episodic nature of the show makes it feel longer than its 2:30 running time.
The score by Philip Kern (music and lyrics) and Susan Kern (lyrics) likewise suffers from some unevenness. Some numbers, such as "Train Whistles," "Make A Wish" and "A Wonderful Life," have beautiful, sophisticated melodies and imaginative lyrics. However, a few tunes are lackluster with only serviceable words. Most songs fall somewhere in between.
A talented cast of twenty-four provides worthwhile performances all around. Devin Elting sings adequately and captures the likeable, easygoing and homespun nature of George Bailey. He possesses great stage presence and acting ability, and is quite reminiscent of the film's Jimmy Stewart without being a direct imitation. As Mary, Katie Howe sings splendidly and is an extremely endearing love interest for George. There are many fine supporting performances, including Dustin Farris (an over-the-top and excellently sung Clarence), Charlie Goetz (a devilishly mean Potter), Andrew J. Koslow (Harry), Chad McCallon (Bert), Brian Padgett (Ernie) and Tom Rusterholz (Sam).
Director/Choreographer Chris Beiser brings out the humor and heart of the piece well and maintains a proper tone of sentimentality without going overboard. His choreography is first rate, with the vibrant "Steppin' Out" being a dance highlight.
The nearly fifteen different settings of It's A Wonderful Life are accomplished by scenic designer Joe Leonard. The sets are well-designed and appropriate, though the need to switch sets so often leads to some lengthy transitions between scenes. The period costumes by A.T. Jones are attractive and Travis Richardson's lighting design is professionally rendered.
La Comedia's presentation of It's A Wonderful Life is bound to please most audience members with an agreeable score and a familiar story. As presented here, the fine cast and large-scale production help to make this holiday show one that is sure to entertain. It's a Wonderful Life continues through December 31, 2012, and tickets can be ordered online at www.lacomedia.com or by phone at 1-800-677-9505.