BWW Reviews: It's a Wonderful Cast in Dutch Apple's A WONDEFUL LIFE
We know who you are. You hide at home during the Christmas season watching old movies. You secretly whisper, "Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings" every time you hear a church bell. You can identify Zuzu Bailey faster than this writer can identify Cindy Lou Who. Yes, your favorite holiday movie is "It's a Wonderful Life." You're not alone in that - the classic Frank Capra movie has been named one of America's hundred best films. Seneca Falls, the real "Bedford Falls," has festivals celebrating the film.
And for those who can't get enough of the holiday classic, there are stage versions of it, including A WONDERFUL LIFE, currently at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre. Its book and lyrics are by Sheldon Harnick - think FIDDLER ON THE ROOF; that was him - and the music is by Joe Raposo, the late, great composer for SESAME STREET, the man who wrote the children's song turned pop standard, "Bein' Green." Here is perhaps the great flaw of the show - for such a powerhouse combination as Harnick and Raposo, the songs of this show are utterly unmemorable. Surely a composer from the world of "C is for Cookie" and "One of These Things is Not Like the Others" could have wormed a classic tune out of this show. Surely the man who gave us "Sunrise, Sunset" could score one knockout lyric. You'll leave the show sentimentally happy. You'll feel that it's not quite the downer, perhaps, that many find the original movie to be. Unfortunately, you won't also leave humming.
But you'll fall in love with the cast that delivers the words and music to you. Jake Delaney's George Bailey won't make you think of Jimmy Stewart, but he's enthusiastic, he's talented, and you probably wouldn't pay to hear Jimmy Stewart sing and dance. Delaney's great at both. Meanwhile, Mary is played by Katherine Walker Hill, who's a natural at the part; you can feel her long-suffering support of her almost painfully good husband. Connor McAndrews is as much fun as trainee angel Clarence can be, and the audience will enjoy watching him try to figure things out on the way to his wings. Unlike the film, in which Saint Joseph is a mere voiceover, Clarence takes direction from the Archangel Matthew, in a particularly fine performance by Robert Gadpaille. Up in Heaven, Clarence and Matthew give a marvelous delivery of the song of Clarence's dreams, "Wings."
There's a cheerful small crowd of children in the show, playing the Bailey children, and the crowd isn't there just to be cute; they're all talented. The children's cast rotates, but expect to be pleased with them not just because they're adorable, but because they're indeed good.
The sets for the show, by Evan Anderson, are very well done indeed, including the old abandoned house, and costumes by John P. White are once again great. Paul Bernier's direction is solid, and Lauren Sobon's choreography works perfectly on the Dutch Apple stage.
If you're a fan of the original movie, as so many are, you'll want to see this production. This writer originally couldn't imagine the original movie as being the Dutch Apple's sort of Christmas fare, but the book of this show is far more upbeat without losing the familiar plot. But unlike WHITE CHRISTMAS or MEET ME IN SAINT LOUIS, don't look for a blast of refreshing Christmas music you'll want to sing endlessly every year; like the original movie itself, the story's really not a wonderful musical; it simply has songs. But for those who love the sentimental Christmas classic, it's well worth the trip anyway. If you've ever felt the movie to be too much of a downer for your Christmas season, the stage version may be considerably more enjoyable for you, so it's worth the time to investigate it.
This is one of the area's four large professional Christmas productions this year, and Dutch Apple has put considerable effort into its annual Christmas experience. For those who don't go to Dutch Apple often, this is certainly the time of year to visit. The theatre's own décor, the large, very talented cast of this show (as well as the elaborate sets and costuming), and the atmosphere at Dutch Apple are all worth the trip. Unlike some of the other theatres, Dutch Apple closes its show before Christmas - December 23 this year - so make reservations now.
At Dutch Apple in Lancaster through December 23; visit www.DutchApple.com or call 717-898-1900 for tickets and information.