Thursday, November 18, 2010

Theatrical Review: “It‘s a Wonderful Life”

Theatrical Review: “It‘s a Wonderful Life”
Book, Music, and Lyrics by: Thomas M. Sharkey
Directed and Choreographed by: Dan Gaouette
Theatrical Review by: Paul Adam Smeltz

The Shawnee Playhouse in Shawnee on the Delaware, PA is currently presenting their production of the musical version of “It‘s a Wonderful Life” written by Thomas M. Sharkey. The play is based upon the 1946 classic Frank Capra film of the same name which was based upon a short story written by Philip Van Doren Stern titled, "The Greatest Gift." Both the short story and film are very similar (but not identical), but their most striking secularity is they were not all that popular when they were first presented.

However, the Capra film became a holiday classic due to the magic of incessant Television Seasonal Broadcasts while the short story has (with few exceptions) entered the realm of virtual obscurity. This is somewhat unfortunate as the Short Story has a few nuances the film doesn’t contain. This makes it a bit of an interesting work to visit and read but the cinematic mastery of Frank Capra enhances the story through the use of the tools available in the medium.

For those of you who haven’t had access to a television for the last 30 years, here is the basic storyline to the film. It begins with George Bailey who is on a bridge considering suicide. An angel, who hasn’t yet earned his wings, is sent to rescue him by granting his wish to never have been born. This allows the angle to show George what life would be like for his family and friends if his considerably good deeds and influence would never had touched their lives. George then wishes to be returned to existence in which his realization “It’s a Wonderful Life” is renewed and the angle (presumably) gets his wings. This musical version of the film reflects all its elements minus much of the cinematic magic that eventually made it a classic.

While it’s true something always gets lost while translating a work from one medium to another, there should be some endeavor made to enhance the original work through the tools the medium the work is being transcribed to has to offer. In this reviewer’s humble opinion, if a filmmaker or playwright is unable to do so, he/she should leave the original work alone with all the good memories of it intact. Adding mostly forgettable songs doesn’t do the trick.

Although it may be considered unfair to compare this musical version (and there has been a few of them) of “It’s a wonderful Life” to the film, it should be considered the film is very well known and it’s doubtful the play would have been written if it wasn’t for the desire to be associated with it. After all, it’s not solely based upon the short story written by Philip Van Doren Stern and it isn’t titled, "The Greatest Gift." This may have made the play a much more interesting one to experience but the only reason similarities to the short story exist is because they existed in the film.

However, in spite all the misgivings this reviewer has in regards to the translation of the film to this theatrical work, the talent of many of the actors who performed in it brought a new life to the familiar characters which made it a nice time at the theater. These actors included Brian Bowman who portrayed George Bailey, Kara Snyder who portrayed Mary Hatch Bailey, Scott E. McIntosh who portrayed Clarence Oddbody (the Angel), Brandon Hanks who portrayed Joseph and Potter’s man, Ray Papay who portrayed Uncle Billy, Jenell Manzi who portrayed Mother Bailey, Sara Ferguson who portrayed Violet Bick, Dante Giammarco who portrayed Henry Potter, Jim Lynch who portrayed Harry Bailey, Rob Eilenberger Howell who portrayed Mr. Gower, Steve Rau who portrayed Bert, David Schappert who portrayed Ernie, and the role of ZuZu was double cast by Chelsea Cirillo and Leah Beairsto. The remainder of the cast consisted of an ensemble who included Kiera Arneaud, Hannah Beairsto, Sarah Beairsto, Alyssa Beveridge, Justine Curcio, Brigitte Endrulat, Krystal Endrulat, Jillian Garvey, Chris Grape-Garvey, Emily Guzman, Beckie Herb, Julia Lofblad, Jadyn Rome Lynah, Gryffin Pedersen, Sarah Principe, Hannah Rau, Kristopher Sanchez, Julia Rose Vecchio, Elizabeth Wagner, Grant Wagner, Griffin Wagner, Joshua Wagner, and Samantha Wagner.

The Shawnee Playhouse production of “It‘s a Wonderful Life” by Thomas M. Sharkey was Directed and Choreographed by Dan Gaouette and Staged Managed by Aubrey Boyd. Scot Cleaveland served as the Production’s Scenic Designer with Marshall Haskel serving the production as its Technical Director and Lighting Designer. Amy Rau served the production as its Music Director and Sound technician while Missy Benefield served as its costumer. Kevin Hillman served as the production’s Property Master. The Shawnee Playhouse producers are Ginny and Charlie Kirkwood with Midge McClosky serving as the playhouse’s Executive Director. The Box Office Manager is Mary Horn as assisted by Barbara Ross, Christina McManus, Pam Hudak, and Ariel Hudak. Becky Haskell serves as The Shawnee Playhouse’s Sales and Marketing Director.

Although the Thomas M. Sharkey theatrical presentation of the Frank Capra 1946 Classic film pales in comparison, the overall production at The Shawnee Playhouse was well done and presented some very good acting. It’s not what this reviewer considers to be the best theatrical presentation the playhouse has produced, but it does manage to bring a holiday smile to the face and eyes of its audience. Perhaps, in retrospect, this is a great gift to those who just want enjoy a nice time at the theater so they can realize how wonderful life can be.

This production of “It‘s a Wonderful Life” continues its run at The Shawnee Playhouse in Shawnee on the Delaware, PA until December 19th. Their current “Mark Mysterrio’s Tales of Magic and Mystery for Kids” is being presented until December 28th. The Shawnee Playhouse upcoming presentations and productions include their Children Productions of “A Winnie the Pooh Christmas Carol” November 19th - December 18th and “Kids’ Kabaret” December 28th and 29th, The Northeast Ballet Ensemble production of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky‘s “The Nutcracker” December 6th - 26th, and The Shawnee Playhouse Annual “Messiah Sing In Concert” on Tuesday December 21st.

Those who enjoy the Passionate Art Lover level of membership in The Forwardian Arts Society are offered a $3.00 discount off the admission fee of The Shawnee Playhouse Productions (excluding Children Theatrical Productions and those presented by non Shawnee Production Companies). Please Explore The Shawnee Playhouse Website at or call 570-421-5093 for more information about their productions and to reserve your ticket.

Photograph provided by The Shawnee Playhouse and depicts the characters in The Shawnee Playhouse’s Production of “It‘s a Wonderful Life” by Thomas M. Sharkey.

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