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Review: IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE Rings in Christmas Spirit

The South Bend Civic Theatre recently opened their new show, It's a Wonderful Life, for the holiday season under the direction of Jewel Abram-Copenhaver. Being one of the most classic stories of all time, SBCT really put on all the bells and whistles to make this show a spectacular piece of Christmas theatre. There were a few details that were outstandingly done in this rendition of an ageless show; these few things really made SBCT's version of It's a Wonderful Life one of the better ones I've seen.

It all starts with the production quality, most notably the set, costume, and lighting design, and how they all worked in tandem. With most productions, right off the bat the first "wow factor" of a show is what the set looks like. It's either the first thing the audience sees when they enter the room or when the curtain goes up. The scenic designer, David Chudzynski, created a set that was clever and appropriate. I say clever, because Chudzynski used the space perfectly, creating different settings within a setting. There were diverse locations spread throughout the stage formed through raised platforms adorned with steps and doorways, each area unique through their purpose and embellishments. I say appropriate, because all the furnishings, decorations, colors etc., were fitting to the time frame of the story. The same can be said for the costumes, designed by Deborah Mayers. Both the costume design and the set design were fantastic in their looks and execution but also extremely suitable to the story. However, the best part is how they worked together with the lighting design. The lighting design by Mark Abram-Copenhaver, besides the "regular" sort of lighting that denotes when a light switch is turned off or on, used beautiful projections that overtook the entire stage. Whether it was snow or gravestones, the stage was over taken by stunning images that undoubtedly enhanced the drama unfolding onstage. The juxtaposition of the old-fashioned set and costumes and the modern lighting tricks was such an incredible touch. It was a visual delight and anytime there was a new projection, a murmur of joy moved through the audience. It was an impressive way of both keeping the audience in the world of the 1940's but adding a contemporary opulent detail to remind the audience of the magic of theatre.

On top of a picturesque stage, one of the better aspects of the show was the relationship between the characters George Bailey and Mary Hatch, played by David Patricio and Katie Jung-Zimmerman. The chemistry between the two actors was palpable. Their love seemed real; it was truly reminiscent of a type of young love that starts off awkward but is sweet and exciting. Patricio and Zimmerman were perfectly cast for the show, and for each other. Their relationship seemed natural and subtle, a perfect combination for soul mates and I was rooting for them from the beginning. George Bailey and Mary Hatch's relationship could be a play all their own if Patricio and Zimmerman played them.

What really made this show however, was David Patricio, who played the main character George Bailey. While there were many outstanding performances from various cast members, Patricio carried the show from start to finish. The production itself had so much going on; a large cast, various settings, storylines within storylines, so the stage was constantly in motion and chaos. While none of it was bad or distracting, it was great to have Patricio as a constant; he tied everything together. Patricio really seemed in his own with George Bailey; comfortable, natural, and subtle, even in a larger than life story. He created a genuine George Bailey, someone that both the characters and audience members could root for. His commitment to his character was unwavering; there wasn't a moment with George Bailey where his true hearts intentions didn't reverberate through the audience. It's a big responsibility to play a character as famous as George Bailey, and Patricio hit it out of the park; the show wouldn't have been the same without him.

South Bend Civic Theatre's, It's a Wonderful Life, has everything you're looking for in a holiday play. It's heartfelt, uplifting, and full of that classic Christmas spirit. Even though it's a story I'm sure many people have seen before, it's different because of the unique touches SBCT has added through its cast and design. A lot of heart has obviously been put into this production and I recommend everyone go see it. It's both visually beautiful and full of amazing talent. It's a Wonderful Life plays now through December 23rd every Wednesday through Sunday.

Photo Credit: Jon Gilchrist

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