Review: IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE at Candlelight Music Theatre

What did our critic think?

By: Nov. 27, 2023
Review: IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE at Candlelight Music Theatre

Aisle Say considers something we’ve all thought about it. During episodes of grave doubt and seemingly unrelenting anxiety – whether it be family or financial or health – we have considered maybe the world would be a better place if we had not been born.

Jimmy Stewart was a decorated WWII bomber pilot. He killed people. He returned with what now is named PTSD. His close friend, director Frank Capra, recognized this. Capra felt that this movie would restore some emotional and mental equalibrium. The movie is considered one of the greatest films of all time and one of the best Christmas films. It is preternaturally impossible not to cry in its final scene.

Although young, Jared Calhoun (George Bailey) exhibits a depth of character that makes us believe in him. Known for his singing, dancing and comic chops, Calhoun establishes himself as a strong Method actor. We see in his eyes, his postures and expressive empathy why George gave up his own dreams to ensure the betterment of the citizens of Bedford Falls. Calhoun drew out the long, long vowels of Jimmy Stewart on a few occasions, sometimes a break in his speech leading to a higher pitch. Stewart’s speech pattern was evidenced in all his movies.

George’s nemesis is the avaricious Mr. Potter (David Wills), who evokes delicious evil in his words and intent. Aisle Say was surprised that Wills character did not bring out boos from the packed house opening audience, so chilling was his malevolent presence.

Molly Hofstaedter (Mary Hatch) makes her debut as George’s wife. She was the epitome of sweetness and light. She emoted the ‘impossibility’ of George’s frustrations when he thinks he has lost everything. Mary was a calming figure throughout the entire production.

There is a run on the bank and on Christmas eve, the daft Uncle Billy (a delightful and distracted Shaun Yates) is sent to deposit $8000.00 but absentmindedly wraps it in a newspaper that Potter discovers.

Potter scoffs, “George, you’re worth more dead than alive”. He calls the police. Now frantic, George contemplates suicide, thinking it better that he had never been born.

Max Redman, long time actor and stage manager at Candlelight, is given his first directorial assignment. The pace was slow opening night. Scenes did not move as seamlessly as in past productions. A major concern was the discourse between George and Paul Weagraff (the angel Clarence). In the movie there was direct face to face dialogue. Here, Redman chose to stage a majority of their interchange with George downstage and Clarence upstage and on a level above George (in heaven)? So very far apart from one another, the impact and intimacy of the dialogue was diluted.

When George finally understood how important his life was to the town, his family and friends, one expected a lightning cloud burst of revelation. No lighting cue. This is a defining moment. There was nothing. The transition from suicide to reality was lost.

In the end, the moral is for all of us; we’ve all touched countless lives. The world would be different without us. “No man/woman is a failure who has friends”.

FUN FACT: Bert (Dan Healy) and Ernie (Cody Palmer) names were co opted to Sesame Street characters decades later.

Thanks, Candlelight, for bringing us this message at Christmas. Rumor has it they are close to sold out for the run.

Photos by Tisa Della-Volpe

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE – Through Dec 23. 302.494.3133 Candlelight Theater Delaware – Dining and Entertainment Beyond Your Expectations (candlelighttheatredelaware.org)

Next Up: HELLO DOLLY – January 20 – February 25




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