Tuesday 11 December 2018

It's A Wonderful Life set to song-&-dance wins cheers
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

Morphing the iconic Frank Capra film into a sunny stage musical is, simply, an inspired artistic innovation. Like the advent of in-line hockey skates, the only question is "How come it took so long...?"  And as if on cue, Peter Jorgensen's adaptation wow'd the pants off the matinee crowd of mainly blue-rinsers + prep school teens, no question. [See Plot Quicky in Addendum.]

The original movie script is almost never referred to for what it really is as sociopolitical commentary -- a confrontation between Marx's humanist dictum and the social darwinist ethos of free markets. George Bailey espouses and lives out existentially as well a simple precept : "From each according to their ability, to each according to their need." 

His building-&-loan association is akin to today's credit unions : the borrowers are its shareholders, not the stock marketeers who manipulate the strings. That bunch of God-fearing churchgoers is represented by Harry F. Potter's banker/gangster cadre in the show -- the powers-that-be klepto's who make up but one per cent [1%] of the world's population but control 80% of its wealth.

George Bailey and family consider the Huck Finn novel gifted them by Angel 2nd Class Clarence, up on the scaffold, when all the melodrama of the Frank Capra script adapted as a musical by Peter Jorgensen has, at last, passed.
Photo credit : David Cooper

A rough-&-tumble fisherman friend hauls out Capra's 1946 RKO Studios classic each Christmas for his family to embrace and enjoy anew both for and in spite of its lines they've all memorized. They are the joy that they are. But what makes the Jorgensen adaptation so special is the music that hi-lites those lines.

As director, Jorgensen hand-picked the actors to populate his cast. 100% fair dinkum! job as the Oz would say. George, played by Nick Fontaine, replicates the crescendos, the emotive whines & the sotte voce snivels that any fan of Jimmy Stewart in the movie can do take-offs on after a glasso vino or two. (My ear caught a mix : Jimmy Stewart as filtered through Stephen Colbert.)

Two others were utter crowd favourites. Jim Hibbard as the whisky-flask-fan Uncle Billy had his most hilarious moments in Act I. Angel 2nd Class Clarence by Greg Armstrong-Morris had a second act outing of sheer energy and wit and giggly-fit hilarity that followed a nuanced 1st act where he was mostly quiet but facially animated as The Observer of George Bailey's life-to-date.

Uncle Billy (Jim Hibbard) and nephew George (Nick Fontaine) do a tipsy-doodle stumble home after enjoying an outing that included more than a few nips of night air.
Photo credit : David Cooper

Sound, steady, sure acting by each of the others in the cast. Their blocking / footwork / choreography and facial expressions as directed by Mr. Jorgensen and Ms. Dunbar gave an altogether MGM feel to the show. 

Who suffers, ever, from a swack of the Gershwin Bros. music as backdrop intermezzos to the traditional Christmas carols? The repeated, lyrical and haunting renditions of "Keep The Home Fires Burning" war anthem and the superb reprise, a cappella, of "Heaven on Earth" at show's end were off-set deliciously by G.G's Rhapsody in Blue riffs that rhymed off musically throughout.

Often costuming is either a front-&-centre feature of a major production -- think Beauty and the Beast here -- or just somewhat taken for granted. But in this play Christian David Gauthier's selections for each character and the post-WWII epoch being portrayed were notable for how they stood out, understatedly, throughout the show. 

For his part, set designer Brian Ball executed a crisp and efficient and visually engaging set of scaffolding and doorways that were tricked out cleverly by Chris Hall's property designs that the cast manipulated cleanly. Nice twofer effort here.

As with most storybook episodic literature -- whether novels or movies or play scripts -- the opening exposition of character and backdrop events and dramatic build-up to the eventual climax and denouement can be a bit taxing on the butt-ism factor for any sitting audience. 

But the slick delivery and quickness of Act II events in this show made one forget the earlier drag-factor almost completely. A hearty cheering Huzzah! from the house for this oh-so-ingenious and smart and quick-witted new take on an old master. I joined in eagerly and joyfully!
Particulars :  New Musical Adaptation by Peter Jorgensen.  Based on the 1946 Frank Capra film [derived from the original story by Philip Van Doren Stern].  Orchestrations & Arrangements by Nico Rhodes.  Produced by Gateway Theatre with the support of Patrick Street Productions. On at Richmond's Gateway Theatre in Minoru Park. Runs until December 31, 2018Tickets & schedule information by phoning Gateway at 604.270.1812 or on-line @  www.gatewaytheatre.comShow-time 150 minutes, one intermission.

Production team :  Director Peter Jorgensen.  Associate Director Kayla Dunbar.  Music Director Angus Kellett.  Lighting Designer Craig Alfredson.  Set Designer Brian Ball.  Sound Designer Bradley Danyluk.  Costume Designer Christopher David Gauthier.  Assistant Costume Designer Julianna Franchini. Properties Designer Chris Hall.  Technical Director Theodore Sherman.  Apprentice Technical Director Evan Ren.  Production Manager Josef Chung.  Production Assistant Madelaine Walker.  Apprentice Production Assistant Kate Chubbs.  Stage Manager Yvonne Yip.  Assistant Stage Manager Michelle Harrison.  Apprentice Stage Manager Duston Baranow-Watts.  Apprentice Stage Manager Ashley Vucko. 

Performers :  Greg Armstrong-Morris (Clarence - Angel 2nd Class). Dave Campbell (Gower; Dr. Campbell).  Michelle Collier (Ma Bailey; Mrs. Thompson).  Nathan Cottell (Marty; Bert; Nick).  Cameron Dunster (Ernie; Goon; Angel).  Nick Fontaine (George Bailey).  Kenzie Fraser (Young Mary; ZuZu).  Imelda Gaborno (Violet; Angel).  Jim Hibbard (Uncle Billy).  Vanessa Merenda (Ruth; Mrs. Martini, &c.).  Erin Palm (Mary Hatch).  Nick Preston (Harry Bailey). Braden Saucy (Sam; Martini &c.). Alexander Sheppard-Reid (Young George; Pete Bailey).  Jovanni Sy (Potter; Peter Bailey &c.). 

Orchestra :  Derry Byrne (Trumpet).  Gregory Farrugla (Trumpet ).  Mark Haney (Bass).  Sarah Ho (Violin).  Graham Howell (Reeds).  Angus Kellet (Conductor; Piano).  Laine Longton (Cello).  Alicia Murray (Percussion).  Tawnya Popoff (Viola).  Chris Startup (Reeds). 

Addendum  Plot-quicky refresher for the forgetful : George Bailey from youth forward has been a do-gooder. Saves his kid brother Harry from drowning. Stops the grieving widower druggist Gower from accidentally poisoning a child who has diphtheria. Suppreses all his nascent adult desires to travel and go to university and have a lavish honeymoon -- because others' needs are greater than his own. Carries on Pop's sketchy building and loan association despite the Depression. Makes loans to blue collar day-jobbers. He's the ultimate altruist. Then his dipsomaniac uncle loses the Bailey business kitty. Bankruptcy, scandal, even jail face him he fears. He freaks out. Contemplates a jump off the Bedford Falls bridge.

Entre Clarence, Angel 2nd Class (after 298 years he has yet to earn his wings). Clarence tricks George into saving him from drowning, just like Harry 25 years before. But still George frets and broods. All right, says Clarence : Presto change-o! you're here in Bedford Falls, but I'll walk you through a day or two as if George Bailey had never been born. None of the good deeds you've done or the friends you've made or the family you love ever occurred. Seeing his community in complete tatters, George has an epiphany thanks to Clarence and realizes how "it's a wonderful life" he lives despite its disappointment and setbacks. A final chorus of good cheer, then Curtain!


No comments:

Post a Comment