REVIEW — Have you ever wondered what the world would look like today if you had never been born? The question of whether or not we matter in this world is something I think all adults have pondered at one point in their lives. The cast and crew of Brigham’s Playhouse’s “It’s a Wonderful Life: The Musical” have taken to the stage to deliver their answer … and it comes wrapped in one big, heartfelt, musical bow.
The show begins before the curtain even rises as characters greet you at the door in costume, taking your tickets and inviting you into the fictional upstate New York town of Bedford Falls. The scent of freshly baked (baked daily at the playhouse) cookies permeates the small theater and carts of delicious treats (may I suggest a hot chocolate with peppermint ice cream?) tempt the taste buds as you make your way to your seats.
Cookies not withstanding, my impression of the theater was that it resembled a church with its long pew-like rows, perhaps apropos of its namesake. On its website Brigham’s Playhouse is touted as “Southern Utah’s most intimate theatre” and while the atmosphere is certainly friendly, for my dollar I would prefer a bit less cozy seating. If you are taller than 5 feet 5 inches (my height) your knees are likely to dig right into the back of your neighbor’s chair.
Fortunately the production brings so much heart and soul to the stage that the less-than-comfy seats are but a shadow to the endearing characters and holiday magic found in “It’s a Wonderful Life: The Musical.”
If you are unfamiliar with the iconic Christmas movie which famously starred James Stewart and Donna Reed, it is a story of a small town man with big dreams who, because of his compassion for the people in his town, gives up on his dreams to help others.
Told mostly through flashbacks to a wingless angel named Clarence, the story follows George Bailey through a life of good deeds that seemingly lead him nowhere. But when tragedy strikes and George Bailey turns suicidal Clarence gives him an opportunity to witness what the world would look like if he had never been born.
As may be expected, the musical version of the classic tale is chock-full of songs not found in the silver screen edition. The added songs are both touching and funny and, without detracting from the ladies, showcase a strong male cast.
George Bailey and his wife, Mary Hatch Bailey, are played by actual married couple Tim and Tamera Merkley whose onstage chemistry is easily believable as the couple develops from young lovers at a dance to husband and wife to parents. The two leads also have the most solid vocal and acting chops in the cast. Audience members will definitely catch glimpses of James Stewart’s mannerisms and speech patterns in Tim Merkley’s performance.
Watch for the couple to shine in scene seven as George Bailey finally realizes how much he loves Mary.
The cast and crew make great use of props and scenery, transforming the small stage from Bedford Falls Main Street, to the inside of the Baileys’ house, to a bank with many quick changes in between scenes. The sets are strong and believable and the only detractor is that some of the scene changes were quite loud and took away from what was going on on stage.
Brigham’s Playhouse is a nonprofit community theater working with a small budget. Several of the cast members play multiple roles both on stage and behind the scenes. For instance, in the playbill Dale Hoopes is listed as the lighting designer and stage manager and as characters Sam Wainwright, Mr. Reinman and Mr. Carter.
A highlight of the show for me was the song “Bless You George Bailey.” Sung by Mr. and Mrs. Martini (Taylor Williams and Megan Williams) as a thank you to George Bailey for helping them get into their own home, the Williams’ brought a laugh-out-loud comedic and talented performance to the stage.
“Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings”
If you haven’t already guessed, the world without George Bailey looks bleak as he witnesses how small deeds that in his eyes led to disappointment, were actually leading him to a wonderful life.
Without waxing too philosophical, I think the story of George Bailey resonates with audiences so well because at one time or another we all have moments where we wonder if we matter. George Bailey had big dreams of shaking the dust of his “crummy little town” off his back and seeing the world never realizing the world he was creating was the place where he became someone.
While the playhouse’s performance is not without its small imperfections — the most endearing being the use of the word “awesome” in a story set between 1928 and 1946 — the cast and crew bring such earnest joy to the stage you can’t help but be touched by the ending scene as the whole town rallies around George Bailey in his time of need and joins together in a beautiful rendition of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”
If Clarence earned his wings by helping George Bailey realize his worth then the cast and crew of “It’s a Wonderful Life: The Musical” earned theirs by helping the audience feel the spirit of Christmas in a show that is certain to be a holiday tradition throughout the years.
“It’s a Wonderful Life: The Musical” runs Tuesday-Saturday at 7 p.m. with a Saturday matinee at 2 p.m. until Jan. 2, 2016.
- What: Brigham’s Playhouse presents “Its a Wonderful Life: The Musical”
- When: Tuesday-Saturday, 7 p.m. | Saturday matinee, 2 p.m.
- Where: Brigham’s Playhouse, 25 N. 300 West, Washington City
- Cost: Adult $23; Senior $21; Student $17
- Resources: Website | Telephone: 435-251-8000
Email: [email protected]
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