BWW Review: A WONDERFUL LIFE - THE MUSICAL at MTKC Pro
Music Theatre - Kansas City Pro opens its new auditorium integrated inside the B&B 18 screen multiplex on Midland Drive in Shawnee. The show is "A Wonderful Life - The Musical" with book and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. Ironically, this musical adaption of the classic 1946 Christmas film with James Stewart and Donna Reed is brought to us by the same mind that delivered "Fiddler on the Roof," but more on that later.
The auditorium is advertised to seat 300, but the fire department permission posted in the lobby agrees to an audience of up to 471 comfortable movie style seats. It is obvious that the old British entry system has been imposed on what was formerly Auditorium 7 of 18. Light positions in this huge room have been added. The stage frontage is exceptionally wide.
"A Wonderful Life - The Musical" is presented semi-concert style with some costumes and some choreography. A twelve-member orchestra, conducted by MTKC founder and artistic director Julie Danielson, sits stage center on a several inch high platform. The existing movie screen is used for evocative projections used in lieu of more formalized sets.
George Bailey (Tanner Rose) believes his life has been lived at the fuzzy end of the lollypop. George is the scion of a family who owns the local Building and Loan Association at Bedford Falls, New York. Building and Loan Associations were those organizations that made it possible for the common man to own a home and prosper in his own small business. B&Ls or their later cousins S&Ls have mainly ceased to exist.
After graduation from high school, George agrees to postpone his college plans and help his father operate the family business. But the elder Bailey dies unexpectedly and the day for George to pursue his dreams never comes. George's friends and brother get to go off and achieve their dreams, but George is trapped between the needs of his community and the local evil banker Henry Potter (Ray Zarr). George eventually weds his sweetheart Mary (Elizabeth Reese) and they have a family. Together they weather "The Great Depression" and the stresses of World War II while continuing the care of George's alcohol addicted Uncle Billy (Jay Coombes).
The war ends and life is looking up until the Federal Bank examiner arrives to make his periodic audit. Somehow Uncle Billy misplaces the Building and Loan's cash deposit into Mr. Potter's Bank. George knows he is ruined. He decides the only way out is the benefit paid to Mary from his life insurance policy.
George prepares for suicide off a local bridge only to be saved by Clarence (Max Brown), a second class angel, struggling to earn his long sought after wings. Clarence shows George how much his life has meant to all those around him.
Meanwhile, all those people who have depended on George for all of his lifetime rally to his support and replace the money that has been lost dollar by dollar by dollar. George recognizes his life value and Clarence finally earns his wings.
"A Wonderful Life - the Musical" has struggled to be seen. Sheldon Harnick and his composing partner Joe Raposo worked on the adaption for many years before running into rights problems with the owners of the original 1939 Phillip Stern story. Raposo died of cancer in 1989. Harnick is now 94. The show has been produced regionally several times including at the Papermill Playhouse in New Jersey, DC's Arena Stage and at Branson Missouri. The most renowned version is probably a benefit concert production for the Actors Fund with Brian Stokes Mitchell as George, David Hyde Pierce as Clarence, and Judy Kuhn as Mary. A Broadway production has never been mounted.
This initial offering can't quite decide whether it is fully staged show or a concert. The voices are very good especially with the contributions of Tanner Rose as George, Elizabeth Reese at Mary, and the comic Max Brown as Clarence (the woe-begotten second-class angel). The ensemble and the orchestra likewise do credit to the MTKC Pro company.
There is some talent here and a fine community vision from the local owners of B&B theaters. It has been said that a full stage house with a pit, raised stage, rail and grid, proper wings, and all the rest is in the offing as matching funds can be raised. I look forward to watching a new professional company develop with the full facility needed to match their dreams.
MTKC Pro's "A Wonderful Life - The Musical" ends its run this Sunday, December 17. The MTKC Winter Show "Soundstage" opens December 29th. More information on www.MTKC.org.
Photo courtesy of MTKC Pro