Theatre Mirror Reviews -"It's A Wonderful Life"

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note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Tony Annicone

"It's A Wonderful Life"

A Review by Tony Annicone

Rhode Island Stage Ensemble's holiday show this year is the traditional holiday classic "It's a Wonderful Life". It is a series of 30 vignettes which tells the story of George Bailey, a good man who stumbles upon some difficult times and in an act of true desperation, is offered the chance to realize the value of his own life by his guardian angel, Clarence. For years George's family run business, The Bailey Brothers Building Loan, had been an asset to the small community of Bedford Falls. They offered loans to ordinary people of good character when the regular bank wouldn't consider them. However the Building and Loan company has been a thorn in the side  of the nasty and mean, Mr. Potter, who wants to control all commerce in the town. The defeat of this insidious creature is wonderful to behold. Director Jason LeClair molds his cast into these characters of the past beautifully, blending the joyous and dramatic moments together. He creates a family show to be enjoyed during the Christmas season. The audience cheers George Bailey's success at realizing that it is a wonderful life after all.

Jason blocks his huge cast beautifully. Some of the musical numbers include "Buffalo Gals", "Hark the Herald Angels" and "Auld Lang Syne". This latter number evokes numerous tears from the audience. Jason also built the set for the show. Chris Cournoyer delivers a splendid performance as the older George Bailey. He captures the inner warmth and caring for his family members that comes through when he agrees to solve the money problems especially when George pays the customers with his honeymoon money. George always puts his family before himself. Chris discovers love is much better that money when mean old Potter tries to buy him off. He delivers a terrific dramatic performance in this scene. Later Chris has a dramatic nervous breakdown scene with his wife and children in the second act. He melts the hearts of the crowd with his sincerity in this role and has many comic moments, too.

Nicole Cayer is excellent as Mary Bailey. Nicole plays the younger woman madly in love with George and later on makes the transition to play the caring mother who helps George solve his money problems in the end. The heartwarming close of the show will leave the audience in tears as it did me even though I knew the outcome of the show. The young George at 12 is portrayed by Tim Ferron who saves the local druggist from accidentally poisoning a young boy with the wrong medication. Chuck Martins plays Mr. Gower, the druggist who lost his son in World War 1 and slaps George before realizing his error with the medication.

The villain of the show, Mr. Potter is fantastically played by Michael Martins. He plays the malevolent character perfectly and spews venom as this greedy awful man, Michael shines in this role. I last reviewed him as Oberon in "Midsummer Night's Dream" in 2010. Another winning performance is by David O'Connell as Clarence, the Angel who finally wins his wings by saving George's life. His lovable and whimsical character wins the day and he endears himself to the audience splendidly. David appears onstage during the entire show captivating the audience in this role.

The four Bailey children are played by Tim Ferron, Evan Sousa, Nicholas Tvaroha and Emily Tvaroha as Zuzu. They all display strong acting talents in their roles. Rich Ferron is comical as the forgetful Uncle Billy who loses $8,000, getting George into trouble while Amy Simard is a hoot as his wife, Tillie.  Ernie is well played by Michael Campbell while both Marc Laurent and Austin Mazza-Venditelli do marvelous work as George's younger brother, Harry. Austin is young Harry in the high school and funeral scenes. Other comic roles include Jason LeClair as Mr Martini, Shannon McMillan as young Violet, Kay Bowen as the town flirt Violet and Ryan DiOrio as Potter's evil henchman. A touching performance is also given by Carol Varden as George's mother at the funeral scene and in the second act when he visits her at the boarding house.So for a fun filled Christmas show that will make you laugh and cry in all the right places, be sure to catch "It's a Wonderful Life". It will definitely bring you into the holiday spirit.

"It's A Wonderful Life" (7 - 16 December)
@ Sainte Ann Arts and Cultural Center ,84 Cumberland Street, WOONSOCKET RI

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide