La Comedia Dinner Theatre in Springboro, Ohio, continues their tradition of capping the end of the calendar year season with a Christmas-themed show. What makes this year different is that they are presenting a full-fledged, new musical version of the movie classic It's A Wonderful Life. With a talented cast, an expansive design, and functional material, the production is certain to please the 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 means to everyone he has known.
The book for the show, provided by Susan Kern and Jerry Lowe, closely resembles that of the well-known film. A few 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 most of the dialogue is well-written, there are a few spots where it sounds unnatural and contrived. The act one opening scene/song showing the townspeople at Christmas serves little purpose and is the least well-written of the show.
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 provide worthwhile performances all around. Chris Couch is very impressive as George, with a clear, natural, and soaring singing voice and a detailed portrayal of the character made famous by Jimmy Stewart in the film. As Mary, Kristen Beil displays a pleasant soprano sound that borders on operatic and is a fully likable love interest for George. Also worthy of special mention as Young George Bailey is Jason Slattery, who handles his three songs with great skill. There are many fine supporting performances, including those turned in by M.J.J. Cashman (Potter), Steve DeBruyne (Ernie), Michael Drolet (Harry), and Talkin' Broadway's own staff member Jonathan Frank as Bert.
La Comedia regular Keith Cromwell capably serves as director and choreographer. He provides generally effective staging and his fun dances are showcased in "Steppin' Out."
The task of creating the nearly fifteen different settings of It's A Wonderful Life was accomplished by Matthew J. Evans. 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 Jane Sizemore and Jody Williams are attractive and Geoffrey D. Fishburn's lighting design includes some nice moments.
This version of It's A Wonderful Life has only been presented a few times previously, and the script has been vastly reworked for La Comedia. The show 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. There are hopes that it will become a Christmas tradition all around the country, just as the film is for many. With additional work by the authors, however, the show could be even better.
It's a Wonderful Life continues through December 31, 2002, and tickets can be ordered online at www.lacomedia.com or by phone at 1-800-677-9505.