“It’s a Wonderful Life” has been a beloved Christmas classic since the James Stewart-Donna Reed movie appeared on the screen in 1946. During the holiday season it’s a good bet that you can find the movie on some cable network nearly every day. In all honesty, it was never one of my favorites, and I’m not sure that the addition of music improves it, but “It’s a Wonderful Life, the Musical” on the Woodland Opera House stage is charming.
The music by Bruce Greer is engaging, but not memorable. The book and lyrics are sometimes confusing, as they condense familiar episodes from the movie.
But all that aside, to concentrate strictly on the production directed by Dean Shellenberger, it’s a winner.
Is there anything Erik Catalan can’t do? He seems to get better and better with each production I see him in, and as George Bailey, the man who was going to do great things in the world but was forced to stay home in little Bedford Falls and keep his father’s savings and loan from collapse following the father’s death, he is in top form.
Jori Gonzales as Mary Bailey, George’s wife and biggest supporter, is excellent. She has all the innocence of a young girl with a big crush evolving into a love for the man she plans to marry, and displays a big heart in her support of him in whatever he needs.
The villain of the piece, Mr. Potter, hated George’s father, hates George and wants only to get control of the savings and loan. The always affable James Glica-Hernandez (credited with music direction) would seem an odd choice to play this curmudgeon, but he was often downright scary in his meanness, glowering convincingly. It also helps that he has a strong singing voice when doing solos like “Go Ahead and Run.”
When George reaches the breaking point and is about to take his own life, realizing that he is “worth more dead than alive” and that his death would solve his family’s financial problems, God intervenes and sends Clarence a second-class angel trying to earn his wings, to help George through the crisis.
Sadly God gets no program credit so I don’t know who did the voice over, which may be a good thing since the opera house sound system was so muddled it was often difficult to hear what he said. But the graphic above the stage was great.
However, Richard Lui, as Clarence is an endearing, if inept angel who finally hits upon a way to let George know that his life has not been for naught. His “Second Class Angel” is a comic number that is almost out of place among the other numbers in this show, but fun.
Along the way there are a host of minor characters, each of whom is excellent. Nancy Agee, for example, is Mother Bailey, the steadying influence in the family, whose beautiful voice just aids to her performance.
Steve Mackay is the lovable but bumbling Uncle Billy, who unknowingly threatens the very existence of the savings and loan.
Kyle Hadley is an over the top Sam Wainwright, life-long friend of George, big and blustery and well-meaning, if often annoying as he booms out his "hee-haw" greeting.
In the small roles of Mr. And Mrs. Martini, Josh Wheeler and Melissa Balkie-Rick are very funny doing “Bless You, George Bailey,” based on “O Solo Mio.” Balkie-Rick has a set of pipes that will impress any theater-goer. (Wheeler also has the small role of George's brother, Harry)
The Bailey children – Jack Collins, Kate Loscuoff, Lilac Beckser and Kaori Catalan (pleased to be on stage with her real father as George) are real pros.
An unsung (and uncredited) actor is Jon Dahlberg, who pushes Mr. Potter’s wheelchair around the stage. Dahlberg is the epitome of stoicism. His facial expression is frozen in the visage of the obedient servant.
Another person who should be mentioned is young Logan Balkie-Rick who has no real role in the show, but takes the first (solo) bow...and who is just too cute not to be mentioned.
Staci Arriaga has done some lovely choreography, especially for numbers like “Would You Like to Dance With Me?”
The simple set design by Don Zastoupil is pleasant, but most notable is the falling snow. Real-looking snow falling onto the stage and then dissolving. It is impressive.
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