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

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entire contents copyright 2010 by Tony Annicone

"It's A Wonderful Life"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The current production at Company Theatre is the traditional holiday classic "It's a Wonderful Life". It's 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. George finds out that "no man is a failure who has friends.'' For years his family run business, The Bailey Brothers Building and Loan had been an asset to the small community of Bedford Falls, offering 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. Directors Zoe Bradford and Jordie Saucerman mold their huge cast of over 50 performers into these characters of the past beautifully, mixing the joyous and dramatic moments together so at the close of the show, the audience leaps to their feet to cheer George Bailey's success at realizing that it is a wonderful life after all.

Zoe and Jordie's well crafted Christmas tale is a fantastic alternative to "Christmas Carol" and the talented people they cast in these roles bring them to life in the best way possible. The show opens with a fantastic black and white recreation of George's life with the Company Theatre cast. The blocking of this huge cast is well done as are the dance numbers especially the exuberant and energetic Charleston number choreographed by Sally Ashton Forrest. Music director Michael Joseph recreates some of the music from the movie while adding his own musical songs to create the marvelous accompaniment to this holiday tale. Beth Stafford plays the keyboards with Tom Stafford on trumpet, David Cross on clarinet,flute and saxophone, William Buonocore on guitar, banjo, bass and mandolin and Scott Brenner as the percussionist. Songs include Buffalo Gals, "I Love You Truly", Ave Maria, Hard Hearted Hannah, Hark the Herald Angels and Auld Lang Syne. The latter two songs are tear jerker numbers. The multitude of sets were built by Jordie and Bob Grazioso. They include backdrops, the outside facades of the town buildings and their interiors and the topnotch bridge set complete with snow falling from above. The gorgeous period costumes are by Shirley Carney and the fantastic lighting design is by Michael Clark Wonson. The stars on the backdrop are just one example of this young man's expertise at his craft.

Michael Warner delivers a tour-de-force performance in this show and is excellent as the older George Bailey. He captures the inner warmth and caring for his family members that is superb especially when he agrees to solve the money problem by paying the customers with his honeymoon money. George always puts his family before himself. George discovers love is much better than money when Potter tries to buy him off. He has a dramatic nervous breakdown scene with his wife and children in the second act that is stunning. Michael melts the hearts of the crowd with his sincerity in this role. He also has many comic moments in the show with his real life girlfriend, Nicole Mayne, a gorgeous brunette, who plays Mary Bailey. She is excellent in this role, making the transition from younger woman madly in love with George to caring mother who helps George solve his money problems in the end. Hopefully this is the first of many shows they will be performing in together. The heartwarming close of the show will leave the audience in tears just as it left me crying even though I knew the outcome of the show. The younger George is portrayed by Kyle Sutton, a sixth grader who shows off his acting talents and tugs at your heartstrings when he saves the local druggist from accidentally poisoning a young boy with the wrong medication. Paul Warner plays Mr. Gower, the druggist who lost his son in World War 1 and slaps the boy before realizing his error.

Another winning performance is by Frank Piekut as Clarence, the Angel who finally wins his wings by saving George's life. His lovable and whimsical character wins the day and endears himself to the audience wonderfully. Their four children are played by Will Sutton, Julia Vaillancourt, Anthony Ratti and Catherine Oliviere as Zuzu. They also standout in this show with some strong acting from them. Steve Dooner with a dynamite Irish brogue is comical as the forgetful Uncle Billy who loses $8,000, getting George into trouble while Annie the maid is played by Jeanette Jackson who delivers her many one liners perfectly winning much laughter from the crowd. Bert and Ernie are well played by Christopher Hagberg and Ryan Barrow while Nick Paradiso does a great job as George's younger brother, Harry. Steve, Christopher and Ryan sing "I Love You Truly" while Collen McDonough, Robin Brodsky and Lauren Posner sing "Buffalo Gals". Other comic roles include Paul Chiano and Susan Dushock as the Martini's with topnotch Italian accents as well as Jamie Poskitt and Caroline Kautsire who add levity to their scenes as scatterbrained Cousin Eunice and Cousin Tilly and the sexy vamp Violet played by Margaret Kelly. The villain of this show is Mr. Potter played with malevolence by Chris DiOrio. He shines as this evil man. Chris usually plays comic roles so this is a nice change for him. So for a fun filled Christmas show that will make you laugh and cry in all the right places as well as to help bring you into the holiday spirit, be sure to catch "It's a Wonderful Life" at Company Theatre. Tell them Tony sent you

"It's A Wonderful Life" (26 November - 19 December)
@ 30 Accord Park Drive, NORWELL MA
1 (781)871-2787

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide