It's A Wonderful
Life is a pretty wonderful show that will restore your faith in humanity.
Adapted from Frank Capra's classic film, this musical version, being staged
by the Civic Light Opera Company, was created in the 1980s by Joe Raposo and
Sheldon Harnick. Due in part to Raposo's untimely death, the show has never been
given a full Broadway production but an all-star cast gave a one-night-only
concert version in New York in 2005.
The authors have given the show a lilting title song that will linger in the
memory. The score also includes a charmingly old-fashioned second-act
showstopper for Clarence, the angel seeking his wings.
The song, in fact, is called Wings and David Haines as Clarence leads a
fantasy production number backed by a chorus line of angels executing Larry
Westlake's slightly campy choreography.
It provides a touch of levity before the story plunges into the darkly
surreal sequence when Clarence shows the despondent George Bailey what life in
Bedford Falls would have been like had he not been born.
This famous sequence is, of course, where the show's considerable heart may
be found, and Bryan Chamberlain as George Bailey rides the emotional roller
coaster to maximum effect. His performance really centres the show, which works
out well since George is on stage nearly the entire time. His scenes with David
Haines effectively point up the incredulity and the wonder George is
Chamberlain has a terrific leading lady in Andrea Barker who brings a
straightforward charm to the role of Mary, and sings like an angel.
As Henry Potter, the meanest man in town, Lloyd Dean channels some of the
residual misanthropy of last season's Scrooge to create a cold-hearted
curmudgeon, a connivingly realistic antecedent to Haines' eternally earnest
There is also some great ensemble work, notably the finale of the first act
where George's brother Harry is given a hero's parade by the townsfolk, while in
stark contrast George realizes he might well lose the family business.
In the role of George's heroic brother, Scotty Newlands gets a chance to show
off his powerful voice, joined by an equally strong Elizabeth Rose Morris as his
Joe Cascone earns applause for ensuring that the sentimentality of the piece
never becomes overly saccharine. He has also done his usual wizardry in keeping
the action moving without pauses for scenery shifting, aided by Gareth Crew's
mix of light and shadow that helps maintain the story's ethereal qualities.
Best of all, It's A Wonderful Life serves as a reminder to value life and
embrace both its joys and its challenges. Only the most cynical and jaded will
not feel a lump in the throat at the final curtain.
It's A Wonderful Life plays until Sunday, Dec. 27 at Fairview Library
Theatre, 35 Fairview Mall Dr. For tickets and performances times visit http://www.civiclightoperacompany.com/
or call the box office 416-755-1717.
Mark Andrew Lawrence's theatre reviews appear occasionally in The North York