BWW Reviews: Next Act's Wonderful Cast Reprises WONDERFUL LIFE: LIVE RADIO SHOW
Milwaukee's very own Christmas story arrives on stage courtesy of Mary MacDonald Kerr. Next Act Theatre presents the second edition of her adaptation of a holiday classic Frank Capra film with It's A Wonderful Life: Live Radio Show, a joy to watch and listen to with the addition of more music. The reprise production debuted in 2012 and features all the cast members from last year who positively glow on stage in this timeless story of George Bailey's tribute to the everyday working man that reminds the audience of Old Milwaukee's marketplace.
Actor, director and sound designer David Cecsarini amazes the audience with his versatility to creating the sound effects that make the Wonderful LIfe come alive and then combine with his ability to draw even more emotional resonance to the play from his actors than last year. Setting the scene iof the play in Milwaukee 1952 allows the cast to make numerous references to vintage culture: Usinger's Sausage, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Miller Beer, especially the breweries that 'made the city famous' and were the lifeblood of the city's heartbeat.
That evocative heartbeat reaches out to the audience when the cast plays six employees of radio station WNAT while they produce their last full talk radio hour on Christmas Eve. They planned on finishing with A Christmas Carol, but the station owner changes the program at the last minute to It's A Wonderful Life. Enter the radiant Mary MacDonald Kerr in the role of Judy, a former employee returning to Milwaukee for the station's farewell performance because the programming will be going to all music, all the time, 24 hours.
When the staff recruits Judy to play Mary Hatch opposite her former boyfriend in the guise of a passionate Norman Moses who plays James, he becomes reluctant to play George Bailey. The romance immediately rekindles between Judy and James when speaking as George and Mary, while the rest of this amazing cast plays multiple parts to revive this beloved story of how "every man's life touches so many others."
Debra Babich gives the Bailey children and Violet spunk while Jack Forbes Wilson accompanies on piano and delightfully acts as second-class guardian angel Clarence Odbody, sent to earth to earn his wings and save George from disaster. As George's brother Harry, Bo Johnson gives him believable affection, and then switches personalities to play the villain of Bedford Falls, Mr. Potter. Every actor, even Cecsarini who gives Bert and Ernie their rightful due, sparkles in the performance of this hometown retelling like the snow falling on the stage backdrop to recreate these seasonal memories in Milwaukee.
With Milwaukee experiencing a very cold, winter white holiday season, warm the heart and soul with this exceptional Next Act adaptation by MacDonald Kerr. George Bailey's life celebrates the workingman and his contribution to a town's quality of life. Those men that as George claims to Mr. Potter "do the working and paying, the living and dying," and how when they support one another in friendship can create a wonderful life in Milwaukee or any other American city.
George Bailey lived to make a contribution, cherishing each and every individiual's quality of life in Bedford Falls and celebrating the uncommon gift that can be. Next Act adds to his legacy by producing MacDonald Kerr's very sensitive adaptation acknowledging the beauty in the ordinary man or woman, and those who feel similar to James, where there might be "no hope, no angels, no holiday cheer." But Next Act gifts Bailey's final optimism to the audience by telling this realistic story when James and Judy walk out the door singing "buffalo girl won't you come out tonight."
MacDonald Kerr and Moses, Cecsarini and Forbes Wilson, Babich and Johnson, lasso the moon and that fragile lust for living. Where the audience will indeed listen to hear bells sounding for another life that discovers redemption, whether angel's who earn their wings after 200 years or a man who needs to know his prayers are heard. Hope celebrated by treasruing family and friends, a life well lived and then renewed.