It's a Wonderful Life
It’s a pretty darn good life.
How hard it can be not to recite one’s favorite lines, especially when good ol’ George Bailey is giving what for to that warped, frustrated old man, Mr. Potter.
And yet, we urge you to refrain, if only because two of the best things about Sacramento Theatre Company’s regional premiere of the musical version of holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life are the new twists that Jerry Lee (George) and Gary S. Martinez (Mr. Potter) give to those familiar characters. Lee’s George has an edge of frustration and despair that comes late to the Jimmy Stewart version of the character and adds texture to his meltdown; when he prays for a way out, we believe he’s really going to jump. And Martinez’s interpretation of Potter is, well, nothing short of maniacally evil. What comes through is plain-old human badassery rather than the excesses of industrial capitalism we know from the film.
That said, the play does its best work when sticking to the story of communal good over rugged individualism, Frank Capra’s kinder, gentler American socialism. The songs are, unfortunately, not terribly memorable—other than Potter’s infernal “Tell Me What You Want,” and Uncle Billy’s (Michael R.J. Campbell) delightful—if ultimately unfortunate—“You Can’t Keep Those Bailey Brothers Down.” Even Clarence’s (Jim Lane—full disclosure: SN&R’s film critic) turn in “Second Class Angel” doesn’t hold up, although, at least it’s honest about singing in one key.
That grand voices, like Lee’s and Jackie Vanderbeck’s (Mary), are given so little to work with is certainly a missed opportunity, but Jarrod Bodensteiner’s fantastic set design keeps things moving along with just a suggestion of our favorite scenes (don’t expect a dunking in the swimming pool), and there are some delightful mid-20th-century costumes from Jessica Minnihan. Die-hard holiday fans will certainly enjoy this Christmas- and Christianity-enhanced stage version of our favorite show, and even those of us who remain pagan but enamored of class politics will find a great deal to love in this well-done production, directed by STC executive producing director Michael Laun.
Just don’t recite the lines, or you won’t get your wings.