A Wonderful Life | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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A Wonderful Life

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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

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