THEATER REVIEW- A Wonderful Life
Reviewer: Howard Steven Frydman.
I have freely admitted that one of Connecticut’s grandest locales is the sight of the Goodspeed Opera House majestically overlooking the Connecticut River and now I have a convert to spread the word. “This must be what heaven looks like” states Ms. Maura Gentry of Virginia, who along with 40 additional bus mates, are exploring the “nutmeg state” during our Autumn Renaissance, and who have made a mid- afternoon bus-stop to have lunch at the Gelston House and then onward to see the Goodspeeds latest production- “A Wonderful Life”. Ms. Gentry continues, “I’ve never seen such vibrant fall foliage in all my life, this is one of the reason we all journeyed to New England- a spectacular day I will remember forever-and after seeing this amazing musical production I’m ready to say “Seasons Greetings”- this is a Wonderful Life”!! In fact, the area near and around The Goodspeed could indeed be rechristened Bedford Falls – East Haddam- with their motto – “Every-time a Bell Rings”!
It’s A Wonderful Life and I are old friends- this perennial holiday movie classic starring Jimmy Stewart and directed by Frank Capra, was the first public domain film I ever broadcasted on TV5 – the finest television station here in Connecticut I might add, each and every December until Republic Pictures reclaimed the copyrights. This 1946 holiday film staple, once telecast repeatedly and having a huge built-in holiday following is now alas only seen a few times during the holiday period. So, like many, I was very enthusiastic when I heard that the final production at Goodspeed, replacing “The Honeymooners”, would be this angel of a holiday musical version of the film – in fact I’m already hearing bells ringing!
So here I sit in ernest expectations of a bright cheery heartwarming musical illuminated by the fact that the production is adapted by Grammy and Emmy Award-winner Joe Raposo and Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winner Sheldon Harnick and directed by Michael Perlman. The place- Bedford Falls, New York ( but it sure looks like Goodspeed Country- thank you Ms. Gentry) where we meet hardworking put upon Banker George Bailey (portrayed by Duke Lafoon- who has a nice Stewart vocal cadence- and is another native of Virginia – hmmmm?) who runs the Bailey Brothers’ Building and Loan. Poor George, who has done so much for family and friends finds himself at a turning point on Christmas Eve, suicidal, he endeavors to throws himself upon the tracks of a fast-moving train. It is here we meet Clarence,( portrayed by the effervescent Frank Vlastnik) Angel 2nd Class, who is assigned to save George in order to earn his angel wings. To prepare Clarence, his superior Matthew (portrayed by George McDaniel- who has three roles in this production) shows flashbacks of George’s life, and a chance to see what life for his friends and family would be like if he had never been born including George’s love interest Mary Hatch, and that of the richest man in town- the devilish Henry Potter.
As stated, if you are like me, you have seen this oft told tale on TV a thousand fold- but the main question still arises here- “Does it earn its own set of Angel wings as a musical”? At the time of this writing, Christmas is only 8 weeks away, I freely admit “A Wonderful Life” does transfer this cherished holiday staple nobly to the stage but with some minor issues and one major one being evident including- an overwhelming amount of scenes- 30 – the only memorable song being that of the stellar “Wings” sung by the fabulous Frank Vlastnik as Clarence. Kirsten Scott who plays Mary Hatch has a standout and breathtaking singing voice – but lacked a song to really make her own. Ed Dixon who portrays Mr. Potter is a bit too family friendly – I want my Potter with a bit of a “bah humbug”. Lastly- the “Christmas Quotient” – this musical production needed more “snow and spirit” – I yearned for a few classic holiday songs and to be emotionally awakened by Angels and miracles of the season. Clarence! – you have some work to be done here!! I leave you with this bit of mistletoe though – if you are like me it’s not the holidays unless you have the opportunity to not only visit the beautiful Goodspeed Opera House, it’s fabulous New England setting, and see this much cherished classic now transformed into a musical. Enjoy!
A Wonderful Life will run September 18 – December 6th, 2015. Curtain times are Wednesdays at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursdays at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Tickets are available through the Goodspeed Box Office (860.873.8668), open seven days a week, or on-line at http://www.goodspeed.org.
Howard Steven Frydman is General Manager and Executive Director of BATV – Channels 5, 95 & 96 and a member of the CCC.