BWW Reviews: One Man WONDERFUL LIFE Is An Amazing Event
Forget ringing bells. Every time Martin Burke takes the stage, an angel gets its wings. If you think I'm exaggerating, go see This Wonderful Life at ZACH Theatre. The zany one man version of It's a Wonderful Life is easily one of the most entertaining and inventive holiday shows you will ever see.
Simplifying the cherished Christmas film for a solo actor is no easy feat. Ordinary actors and directors would fail miserably at the task, but director Richard Robichaux and actor Martin Burke are anything but ordinary. The smartly constructed script by Steve Murray certainly helps. Murray condenses the film to a 95 minute juggernaut while remarkably preserving its heart and sentiment. Plenty of material is trimmed, but the overall message of hope remains as a testament for Murray's clear admiration and love for the film.
While This Wonderful Life is so skillfully written, directed, and acted that even newcomers to the story are bound to enjoy it, it's worth noting that fans of the movie may find the show slightly more accessible, at least initially. During the opening moments, it's clear who in the audience has seen the movie before and who hasn't. Those who have seen the film are the ones laughing hysterically as Burke tries to act out the entire film in the course of two minutes. Those who haven't seen the film are the ones who look incredibly confused and dumbfounded. Of course, after the two minute, super-condensed version, Burke goes back to the beginning and lets us enjoy the story at a more accessible pace.
A truly versatile performer, Burke weaves in and out of the various characters of Bedford Falls with ease. With a few minor changes to his physicality and voice, he can switch from the heroic George to villainous Mr. Potter to sultry Violet to sweet Mary. But Burke is our host and narrator as well, and the best moments are when Burke gets to be Burke. As astonishing as he is at portraying the 28 different roles, the most memorable moments come when Burke gets a chance to step out of the characters and interact with the audience to provide some commentary. A gag about the ugly, angry style of kissing that permeated films in the 1940s had me in stitches, and others about the importance of money to the story had me reflecting on the film in an entirely different way.
Holiday films are rarely as successful or beloved as It's a Wonderful Life, and while it's tough to reimagine perfection, playwright Steve Murray, director Richard Robichaux, and star Martin Burke have done so in a way that is joyous and remarkable. Even cantankerous Mr. Potter would feel the Christmas spirit if he saw this hilarious and heartfelt show.
Running time: 1 hour and 35 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission.
THIS WONDERFUL LIFE plays ZACH's Whisenhunt Stage at 202 South Lamar, Austin 78704 now thru Sunday, December 29th. Tickets are $45. For tickets, information, and a performance schedule, please visit www.zachtheatre.org