BELLS ARE RINGING TO ANNOUNCE “A WONDERFUL LIFE”

By Bonnie Goldberg

The fates of family and business man George Bailey and wannabe angel Clarence are inexplicably intertwined in the classic Christmas story “A Wonderful Life,” now a musical perfect to usher in the spirit of the holidays. Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam is putting lights, ornaments and glitter on the evergreen trees in preparation for this heartwarming tale of faith, despair and redemption until Sunday, December 6.

Frank Capra’s famous film “It’s a Wonderful Life,” with Jimmy Stewart in the title role, has been transformed into a tuneful tale with music by Joe Raposo and book and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. The 91-year-old Harnick spent time up at Goodspeed recently to put finishing touches of sparkle to this favorite holiday tale.

Duke Lafoon’s George Bailey is wonderfully sincere as the loyal son and resident of Bedford Falls, New York, a good son who honors his parents (George McDaniel and Bethe E. Austin) and the values he has grown up believing. Lafoon makes us care about George’s fate, applauding his hard work ethic and his tender courtship of Mary, a lovely Kirsten Scott, and commiserating with his disappointments when he is forced to abandon college plans and give up his honeymoon to help his family and the patrons of Bailey Building and Loan.

Bedford Falls comes to life, from 1928 to 1945, as its citizens try to create a good, wholesome life, fighting against the stern and unfriendly Henry Potters (Ed Dixon) of the world and seeking the financial support of helpful souls like George, who is always ready to lend a hand.

For two hundred years, Clarence, an open-hearted angel in the guise of Frank Vlastnik, has now been sent to earth to be George’s guardian angel and, in the process, to finally earn his wings. When George despairs that the world would have been better off if he had never been born, after his Uncle Billy (Michael Medeiros) loses a large cash deposit that will  doom their company and cause George to go to jail, Clarence comes to the rescue to save the day.

With songs and dances and adorable Bailey children like sisters Riley and Ella Briggs and Ben Stone-Zelman, you may need a Kleenex or three as George realizes what his life has truly meant. Michael Perlman directs this bittersweet and sentimental Christmas card that deserves to be opened and enjoyed.

For tickets ($27 and up), call Goodspeed Musicals, on the Connecticut River in East Haddam at 860-873-8668 or online at wwwgoodspeed.org. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Watch how hope and love, a pocket of rose petals and the ringing of a bell spell redemption and a renewal of faith in this beloved Christmas classic. What a great early Christmas present for the whole family!

 

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