BWW Reviews: Penfold's WONDERFUL LIFE Is Still Wonderful
Last year, I saw Penfold Theatre Company's annual production of It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play for the first time. I loved the show and gave it a rave review. My reaction this year is no different. Now in its 3rd year, Penfold's It's a Wonderful Life is just as delightful as ever.
While the show is once again staged in the cozy Rice's Crossing Store in Round Rock, there are a couple of changes this year. Like last year's director Nathan Jerkins, this year's director Emily Rankin creates an intimate and fast-paced piece of theatre that successfully tells the familiar Christmas tale of George Bailey and his unremarkable but still wonderful life. The five person cast and the wide array of props used to create sound effects are still the main features of the production, though Rankin's occasional use of musical underscoring is a nice touch that I don't recall being in last year's version.
There are a few new cast members this year as well. Erin Barlow is perfectly cast as George's wife, Mary. Barlow looks and sounds like the girl next door, and she brings some playfulness to the role, especially in moments when she gets to tease George. As Violet, the town vixen and several other characters, Julia Lorenz Olsen proves to be a chameleon as she transitions from role to role. Robert L. Berry, last seen in Penfold's Shipwrecked!, is similarly versatile. As George's brother Harry, Berry adopts a dopey grin and a Barney Rubble-esque voice, but as guardian angel Clarence, he's prim and proper with a staccato, almost British voice.
Returning cast members Ryan Crowder and David R. Jarrott are just as good, if not better, than they were last time around. Jarrott is so diabolically evil as Mr. Potter that there are a few moments where the audience boos, a reaction that brings a twinkle to Jarrott's eyes. He's also quite amusing as George's dimwitted Uncle Billy. As George, Crowder gives a performance that is even more nuanced than last year. Crowder's performance is full of a bit more piss and vinegar this year. This George is more feisty, stubborn, and aggressive. He's a fighter, and though he has his flaws he always has our empathy.
Whether you caught the show last year or not, It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play is well worth a visit. The show is wildly enjoyable and heartwarming. While, other annual productions strive for this level of entertainment but rarely achieve it, It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play is a Holiday tradition worthy of Austin.
Running time: Approximately 1 hour and 35 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission.
IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A LIVE RADIO PLAY, produced by Penfold Theatre Company, plays Rice's Crossing Store at 3300 East Palm Valley Blvd, Round Rock 78665, now thru December 22nd. Performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 7pm and Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm and 7pm. Tickets are $23-25. For tickets and information, visit www.penfoldtheatre.org.