Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 17, 2015

A Wonderful Life

Goodspeed Opera House, East Haddem, CT 
through November 29, 2015
by R.E. Smith

Like many film to stage translations, “A Wonderful Life” must decide whether it is going to compete with or complement its celluloid predecessor or forge a path entirely of its own. In this case, the addition of songs to a faithful narrative serves as compliment but leaves the audience wondering if that was enough to justify the endeavor.

In small town Bedford Falls, NY, George Bailey is a decent, kind man with dreams that have been thwarted by the very goodness that defines him. In a desperate hour, when he regrets the course his life has taken, heavenly intervention will allow him to see what the world would have been like without him. Though the film is inextricably linked to Christmas, the story really has very little to do with that specific season and this interpretation downplays the association even more: no need to fear seeing a yuletide show in October.

First produced in 1986, the music is by Joe Raposo, an Emmy & Grammy winner, who wrote over 1000 songs for Sesame Street. The book and lyrics are by Sheldon Harnick, of “Fiddler on the Roof” fame. “In a State,” a jaunty Charleston number, brightens the stage with peppy choreography and youthful energy, though it does little to drive the story. In the same scene, “A Wonderful Life,” nicely incorporates the underlying theme. Both are winningly performed by Josh Franklin as Sam Wainwright, George’s dashing friend (and reminder of life outside the town).

Photo by Diane Sobolewski
”I Couldn’t Be With Anyone But You” is a lovely ode to the comfort and foibles of marriage, sung by Mary to George. That song, as well as ”Not What I Expected” allows the talented Kirsten Scott the opportunity to add much-needed dimension to her character. Duke Lafoon plays George, with a subtle nod to Jimmy Stewart, but in no way an imitation. George is not a perfect man; he is good-hearted but frustrated at every turn and Lafoon plays all facets masterfully.

As always with Goodspeed, the staging, musicianship, and performances are all top notch. The sentiment is certainly sincere and the show’s message is a positive one. Movie fans will not have their memories tarnished and theatre fans will appreciate Goodspeed’s continued mission to reviving forgotten American works.