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Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

A Wonderful Life: The Musical
Goodspeed Opera House
Review by Fred Sokol | Season Schedule

Also see Fred's review of Newsies and Broken Glass


Kirsten Scott and Duke Lafoon
A Wonderful Life: The Musical, at Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam through November 29th, includes an invigorating second hour which follows an initial act that begs for just a bit of editing. Based upon the classic movie It's a Wonderful Life, Goodspeed nicely embellishes book and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and music by Joe Raposo. As ever, the intimacy of Goodspeed Musicals' performance space enables all theatergoers to experience, up close, actors' gifts.

In 1928 George Bailey (Duke Lafoon) wants to go to college, become an architect, get to Europe; he is an eager optimist. His father, however, has a stroke and dies. George elects to take over at his dad's business, Bailey Building and Loan. Thus, more idealistic hopes and dreams are dashed. Through his altruism, George allows his brother Harry (Logan James Hall) to go to Cornell. George thought that Harry, four years hence, would replace him and that he, George, would be liberated. That does not transpire.

Meanwhile, pretty, sweet Mary Hatch (Kirsten Scott) and George will (after much ado) finally kiss. The chemistry and comfort these two actors share highlight the seemingly lengthy first portion of the production. Brian Prather's set design, which moves from scene to scene within Bedford Falls, New York, is spiffy and complementary. One looks for Clarence (Frank Vlastnik), an angel on earth, as his appearances provide jolts of fun. One assumes that Clarence will assist in George's survival. While some vignettes during the early going sustain, others leave room for one's mind to wander.

On the other hand, both pace and interest are on the rise after intermission. It is 1935 and George, at 30, finds himself at a crossroads. Wealthy blowhard Henry Potter (Ed Dixon), understanding that George could use a fiscal boost, offers him a deal: "Help me run my affairs," he says, and he will give the younger man $15,000 per year (he later ups the figure.) That overture is rejected. Some time after, needing to make up a financial loss, George approaches Potter for help. This time, the elder, haughty individual will not have any of it.

When George pronounces that he wishes never to have been born, the musical closely echoes the famous film. Clarence comes on stage to demonstrate what would have happened if George never lived. Watching, the lead protagonist sees all he would have missed: his lovely wife, delectable three children, and the joys of existence.

A Wonderful Life benefits from fine if not especially memorable tunes. "If I Had a Wish," featuring the leading man and his leading lady, is a distinctive first act number. "Precious Little," George's song in the middle of the second act, is delivered with understanding by Duke Lafoon. The actor, making his debut at the Goodspeed, has performed the role at other regional theaters. His is a knowing performance. Kristen Scott, as Mary, is wisely cast. She is sweet but not sappy. Actor Josh Franklin provides a neat turn as Sam Wainwright, a young ostentatious man who cares more about what money can buy than anything else.

Michael Perlman directs the show and must facilitate, in all, 20 scenes. The comings and goings are fluent and cast members well rehearsed. All wear period appropriate dress, fittingly designed by costumer Jennifer Caprio.

Spending an evening with A Wonderful Life is enjoyable as the entertainment is light and appealing. Raposo, the composer, is probably most famous for having written Sesame Street's theme and tunes like "Bein' Green" and "C is for Cookie." Harnick is noteworthy for his descriptive lyrics which help make Fiddler on the Roof a legendary show. The Goodspeed musical direction is accomplished by Michael O'Flaherty and the presentation is choreographed by Parker Esse. The storyline includes redemption at the conclusion. That goes for the musical, too, which concludes in a positive mode.

A Wonderful Life: The Musical continues its run at Godspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut, through November 29th, 2015. For tickets, call (860) 873-8668 or visit www.goodspeed.org.


Photo: Diane Sobolewski


- Fred Sokol


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