George Bailey is a good man who has been pushed to his breaking point. Deciding that the world would be better off without him, George contemplates suicide. But a kindly angel trying to earn his wings is about to show George the difference one person can make. This is It’s a Wonderful Life by Phillip Grecian and it is currently playing at the Grand Opera House.
It’s rare, but once in a great while I actually get to attend a show purely as a patron. However, I was so touched and impressed by this production that I felt compelled to put fingers to keyboard and share its wonderfulness. This is a terrific show for the holidays and Grecian has written a beautiful script that is full of warmth, sensitivity, strong dialogue, a bit of melancholy, and is so full of hope. His words are brought to incredible life by a powerhouse cast that maximizes the fullest potential of the script.
Michelle Blanchard deserves the highest, possible praise for her direction of this story. It is so strong and confident. She knows exactly where this story is going and knows how to get her cast to that destination. Every beat is a bullseye. Every emotional shift is spot on. Ms Blanchard has coached her cast to superb performances and this cast, without question, projected better than any I have previously heard.
With a cast of excellent actors, it’s very hard to limit myself to just a few choice performances. But some of the quality performances you will see in this show come from Helen Waldmeier who brings a sweetness and fun to her portrayal of Mary Hatch-Bailey; Trenton Sanchez who ably plays the younger version of George Bailey with his integrity and gentleness; and John Gunther whose rich baritone voice rings with a kindly authority as Joseph, God’s right hand angel.
Stephen Green is all aces as George Bailey. Green’s Bailey is so full of decency and goodness that you feel better about yourself for having met him. Green is so, so convincing as a man who has constantly sacrificed his dreams and desires in order to fulfill a greater good. He also wisely adds just the right touch of sadness to Bailey to show that he often muses about what might have been which makes his joy when he realizes his true value all the more moving. The only slight difficulty with his performance is that Green seems to suffer from the same issue as Gregory Peck. He’s so good at being good that his rare moments of anger and frustration seem a pinch off the target.
Robert Armstrong brings a quiet strength to his take on Clarence. He’s a simple angel second class who has been trying to earn his wings for 200 years. He’s a good listener and has genuine empathy for people. Armstrong also gives his Clarence the ability to think fast on his feet as his idea of jumping into the river to get George to save him seems very extemporaneous. He also injects a bit of playfulness into the role with his confrontation with the play’s de facto villain, Mr. Potter.
Danny Fairchild’s Henry Potter is the guy you love to hate. Fairchild steals his scenes with a Potter who is oily, manipulative, curmudgeonly, and vengeful. Fairchild is an amazing actor with a grand gift for a turn of the phrase. His sense of timing was deadly accurate and, son of a gun, he managed to be humorous in his unlikability as well. It is a well constructed and crowd pleasing performance.
Frank McClain’s sounds were some of the best I’ve heard in a production, especially the twinkling sound effects when Clarence was communicating with Heaven. Jan LaVacek has made a nearly bare bones set with the bridge over Bedford Falls being the only constant. I liked the efficiency of his set which could rapidly change into Ma Bailey’s home to the Bailey home to the Bailey Building and Loan to Potter’s office. Gloria Fitzpatrick’s costumes were so natural and suitable that I thought the cast was wearing their own clothes.
As I earlier stated, this is the perfect show for the holiday season. It’s sweet. It’s funny. It’s hopeful. It also show us just what great gifts we can be and that we all have the power to be that force for good in the lives of others. There are only 2 performances left. Don’t miss out on this touching show.
It’s a Wonderful Life continues at the Grand Opera House until Dec 3. There is a performance tonight at 7:30pm and tomorrow at 2pm. For tickets, contact the theatre at 563-588-1305 or visit www.thegrandoperahouse.com. Tickets cost $20 for adults and $12 for 17 and younger. The Grand Opera House is located at 135 W 8th St in Dubuque, IA.