It’s an OK life

The Riverfront’s adaptation of a holiday classic suffers from technical problems

See this scene live at the Riverfront Theatre’s <i>It’s a Wonderful Life</i>.

See this scene live at the Riverfront Theatre’s It’s a Wonderful Life.

Rated 2.0

Of all the holiday plays being produced in the area, Riverfront Theatre’s adaptation of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life was the one I was looking forward to the most. I hadn’t seen the movie until a few years ago, but it’s since become one of my favorite classic films.

If you also somehow managed to make it to adulthood without seeing the film, here’s a short plot summary: George Bailey is a man with big dreams, but through a series of hard choices, he never makes it out of the small town of Bedford Falls. On Christmas Eve, a large sum of money turns up missing at the family-owned Building & Loan, and Bailey is thrown into such despair that he wishes he were never born. Bailey’s guardian angel, Clarence, grants his wish, allowing Bailey the opportunity to see what the world would be like without him.

Now, I haven’t seen the film nearly as many times as my ex-husband, who can practically quote every line, but I’ve seen it enough that the plot and all of the really good lines are etched permanently in my memory. When you’ve seen a movie this many times, there has to be a certain something that keeps you coming back for more. For It’s a Wonderful Life, that something is Jimmy Stewart.

In the Riverfront Theatre’s adaptation, Kirk Gardner tries to fill the man’s legendary shoes, with some success. He’s got the look, and he’s obviously been working hard to capture some of that unmistakable Jimmy Stewart voice inflection. Amber Hurley (née Edsall) also does a good job as Mary Bailey, recapturing the sweet, wholesome Donna Reed personality well.

But for all their efforts, I just didn’t see any chemistry between the two actors. Among other things, It’s a Wonderful Life is a very sweet and poignant love story. But on stage, crucial romantic scenes between Mary and George just didn’t have any fire.

Performances from the rest of the cast were hit-and-miss, with energy levels varying wildly from person to person. Lloyd Steinman and Tony DeGeiso were fun to watch as Clarence and Uncle Billy, and Cheryl Anselmo makes the best out of her role as the town hussy, Violet Bick. John Coney was a great choice for drunken pharmacist Mr. Gower, but he has a tendency to forget his lines.

Director and Riverfront founder Bob Barsanti has had some technical difficulties since the theater moved from its original location to its new donated space at the Cal-Neva Virginian. Some of these difficulties were painfully evident during the production, and none more so than the sound quality.

When microphones were used, they were terribly scratchy and not nearly loud enough. But when they weren’t used, I often really wished they had been. A good amount of dialogue is spoken from backstage, and some actors simply didn’t have the needed projection. I also missed portions of dialogue spoken onstage by both the younger and the obviously less-experienced members of the cast.

It’s always tough to produce a play people will like, and it’s even tougher when you’ve got such high expectations to live up to. While I admit that I can’t really expect Barsanti’s It’s a Wonderful Life to live up to the original, I do wish it had been a little more wonderful.