If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

Holidays Going Strong at Goodspeed

There appears to be a Jimmy Stewart tribute at our major regional theatres this month. In Hartford the actor’s film performance in “Rear Window” has been re-imagined by Kevin Bacon in the premiere of a new play adaptation at Hartford Stage (reviewed last week) and through early December Stewart’s holiday classic, “It’s A Wonderful Life”, has received the screen-to-stage transfer in a tuneful version at Goodspeed Musicals. As with “Rear Window”, however, this is yet another idea that should have been seriously rethought.

Adapted from the beloved Frank Capra film with book and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and music by Joe Raposo, “A Wonderful Life” hits most of the major plot points of the film without ever really adjusting comfortably to the stage format. We meet George Bailey (an anxious-to-please Duke Lafoon), the honest everyman who works at his father’s building and loan company but dreams of bigger things and world travel. When one set-back after another forces George to stay in his dull little town, he becomes despondent and attempts suicide. He is rescued, though, by Clarence (Frank Vlastnik), an angel who then attempts to show George how life would have been without him.

The musical captures the sweet sentiment of the original and it’s hard not to fall for Capra’s whimsical nostalgia for a simpler time. But at Goodspeed, under the perfunctory direction of Michael Perlman, the incidents are slavishly ticked off one by one as we wait for George’s youngest to finally squeal, “Look daddy, teacher says every time a bell ringsā€¦” well, you know the line. The music is less-than-memorable here with the sole highlight being villain Harry Potter’s marvelous song of greed, “First Class All the Way”. Ed Dixon, stealing every scene he’s in as Potter, clearly relishes the opportunity to mix some vinegar with all the sugar. There is also a spiffy Charleston number early in the show that gives choreographer Parker Esse her biggest contribution to the musical.

The performances are fine without really being special. Mr. Lafoon grows into the role but it often seems an uphill battle for him while Kristen Scott is pretty and serviceable as the love of his life, Mary Hatch. Josh Franklin injects some cheerful energy playing Sam Wainwright, George’s successful friend and Laura E. Taylor does what she can with the underwritten part of Violet Bick, the town’s bad girl. In the plum role of angel Clarence, Vlastnik seems to be having an awfully good time which is not, unfortunately, infectious.

Disappointing also is Brian Prather’s mundane scenic design which consists mostly of a brick and window backdrop and not much else. The scenes in heaven are also on the cheap played in front of Goodspeed’s grand curtain with little magic. Jennifer Caprio’s costuming is just fine but I’d love to know how much was spent on those cheesy wings for the angels? Hate to play Scrooge, but at Goodspeed these days it’s just not all that wonderful.

“A Wonderful Life”, whose run was currently extended by popular demand, continues at Goodspeed Musicals through December 6. For further information and ticket reservations, call the theatre box office at 860.873.8668 or visit: www.goodspeed.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.


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