A delightful, magical evening of holiday fun last night at Alexander Showcase Theatre’s (formerly the Alexander Players & Singers) encore production of It’s A Wonderful Life, remounted for a three-day run at the Papermill Theatre after a very successful run last season.
Directed by Vincenzo Sestito, this adaptation of the Frank Capra holiday film classic is set in the 1940s as a radio play within a play. The characters – actors and two foley artists – enter the studio from the house as the audience is still filing in, greeting each other and prepping to go on air. To add to the fun, the script includes live commercial breaks, with actors Erin Leeneuw, Nina Mason and Mallory McGrath giving us Andrews Sisters vocal stylings as they sing out the production’s present-day sponsors in 1940s jingle fashion! And all done with live piano accompaniment by Jo-Anne Wurster. Clever and fun – and adds to the already incredible selection of period music, assembled by music coordinator Gwyneth Sestito, who did double duty on costumes. Shouts also to set designer Peter Thorman and props manager Deborah Mills (who also plays the head foley artist) for the details of this sound studio environment, from the old microphones downstage to the break area upstage, taking us back in time along with the music before the actors even hit the stage.
The marvelous – and large – cast includes Patrick Brown, Marc Davies, Bob Deutsch, Eugene Fong-Dere, Miles Hearn, Steve Kyriacopoulos (another multi-tasker, including producer), Erin Leeneuw, Nina Mason, Mallory McGrath, Deborah Mills, Seth Mukamal, Beth Roher, Matthew Speciale, Nicholas Speciale, Alex Veldhuizen, Jo-Anne Wurster, Sharon Zehavi and Arnie Zweig – most of whom play multiple characters in the radio play performance. The radio actors have their own stories and dynamic going on – and, overall, there’s a warm family vibe behind the scenes as they chat, and break into the occasional song and dance. There’s even an “offstage” attraction dynamic happening between the actors playing George Bailey, Mary Hatch and Violet Bick, mirroring that of their IAWL characters. And there’s a revised ending to the IWAL story, with old man Potter not getting off so easy.
Stand-out work from this amazing cast includes Brown (Ken Boland/George Bailey), ever handsome and giving us a moving performance that balanced the lighter side of George’s journey with the drama and pathos. Deutsch is lovable and sweet as actor Huntley Haverstock, and adorably child-like as the angel Clarence Oddbody. Mason is lovely in a natural, no-nonsense kind of way as Kathleen Robinson, who plays Mary Hatch Bailey – Donna Reed would be proud. McGrath brings it playful and sexy as actor Clarissa D’Orazio and IAWL “bad girl” with a good heart Violet Bick. And Sharon Zehavi is a big ball of enthusiastic delight as Shelley Michaels, a young actor soaking up the atmosphere of her job, as well as every piece of advice she can – and just so darned happy to be working on the show that she could bust – with strong voice-over chops on the various IAWL characters she played.
It’s A Wonderful Life is one of my favourite holiday movies – and an all-around favourite as well – and this stage adaptation has all the joy, magic and good will message. As far as I can tell, today’s matinée (Saturday, December 8) is sold out, but you may be able to get in to see their closing performance tonight. Box office: 416-396-2819.
Have any holiday favourites?