A Wonderful Life | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Arts & Culture » Performing Arts Review

A Wonderful Life

by

comment

A WONDERFUL LIFE, Candlelight Dinner Playhouse. Frank Capra's holiday classic, now a half century old, is more than a poor man's Christmas Carol: George Bailey is the Job of Bedford Falls, giving up a trip to Europe, college education, honeymoon, and career as an architect to serve his dad's building and loan association. Without supernatural intervention, the next sacrifice would be his life. It's a story almost too strong for songs.

Especially if it's Joe Raposo's aggressively mediocre, instantly forgettable score, forlornly yoked to a tepidly faithful book and lyrics by the once-formidable Sheldon Harnick. Imagine George's desperation without urgency or momentum, and you still overestimate this musical Wonderful Life. The subsubstandard songs trivialize, dilute, and retard what should be full-blooded characters and a swift-paced plot. Worse, the script doesn't begin to suggest the warmhearted partnership between suicidal George and guardian angel Clarence; they might as well be in separate stories. Little happens here that's not predetermined: when a transformed George returns home to ask pardon from all-suffering Mary, his friends have already raised the missing money; in the film, it happens spontaneously.

Heartfelt if softheaded, William Pullinsi's staging offers creditable clones of the celluloid icons. Robert Gallagher makes an ardent if erratic George, Kate Fry a solid Mary despite her silly solos. Dale Benson's Clarence twinkles unctuously, and, though the part is truncated, Dale Morgan incarnates greed as Mr. Potter. Well, it's still a wonderful film.

--Lawrence Bommer

Support Independent Chicago Journalism: Join the Reader Revolution

We speak Chicago to Chicagoans, but we couldn’t do it without your help. Every dollar you give helps us continue to explore and report on the diverse happenings of our city. Our reporters scour Chicago in search of what’s new, what’s now, and what’s next. Stay connected to our city’s pulse by joining the Reader Revolution.

Are you in?

  Reader Revolutionary $35/month →  
  Rabble Rouser $25/month →  
  Reader Radical $15/month →  
  Reader Rebel  $5/month  → 

Not ready to commit? Send us what you can!

 One-time donation  →