Theater

Review: 'It’s a Wonderful Life' brings holiday charm to Woodstock stage

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a holiday classic film beloved by millions. It follows the life story of George Bailey, a young man who dreams of going to college and traveling the world. However, he repeatedly has to put his own ambitions aside to cater to the needs of his family business – instilling in him a bitterness and resentment for the life he ends up with. Finally, so discouraged by the bad turns in his life, he contemplates suicide, feeling his life is worth more to his family in insurance money than in having him around.

Enter Clarence, an Angel Second Class, who, in order to save George’s life, shows him what life for his family and loved ones would have been like had he never been born. This prompts George to reexamine his priorities and come to cherish the gifts he has taken for granted.

To bring the story to life for a theatrical audience, Woodstock Musical Theatre Company has chosen a script adaptation by Joe Landry in which the story is told as a live radio play. Enlisted to bring this vision to life is accomplished director Regina Belt-Daniels, whose expertise is on full display as her talented cast delivers a stellar and fresh interpretation of the well-known story.

Local audiences will be familiar with Matthew Schufreider from ensemble work for several area theater groups. It’s nice to see him get a chance to be in the spotlight, playing the central character of George Bailey. Schufreider makes the most of this opportunity, turning in a layered and complex performance. He infuses his character with the same type of charm Jimmy Stewart did in the classic movie version, yet never resorts to imitation. He makes the character his own with a portrayal full of charm.

Other notable performances include Heidi Allen as Mary Bailey, the girl who loves George from their teen years and who eventually gets her wish, marrying the object of her affection and creating a family with him.

Robert Wilbrandt turns in a boo-worthy turn as the villainous Henry F. Potter. Barry R. Norton and Timothy R. Curtis are well-cast as the Superintendent of Angels and George’s Guardian Angel, respectively.

The children in the production are played with requisite cuteness by Zach Blalock, William Madigan, Mary Martin and Lia Hyrkas.

Among the ensemble, April Noel stands out – giving each of her multiple roles their own endearing qualities and unique voices. Rounding out the ensemble are Alex Fayer, Christopher Connell, Travis Greuel, Austin Elliott, Dawn Gerth and Grace Schulz – each believably playing multiple roles.

To break up the dramatic moments of the show, Belt-Daniels uses a quartet of singers under the moniker of the Clarinda Sisters portrayed by Betsy Cosgray, Karen Greuel, Janaan Rose and Suzanne Stalker. They are all impressive vocalists, singing in four-part harmony. On several songs they are joined by announcer Freddie Filmore (Fayer) providing a delicious five-part harmony.

As a staged radio play, all the sound effects of the show are provided by an on-stage Foley artist, skillfully played by Alan Williams who makes the most of a role with only one line.

To help the audience know who’s who in the radio play, costume designer Kathy Bruhnke creatively utilizes different hats for different characters. The set design by Norton is lavish and stunning.

For a unique twist on a memorable holiday classic, look no further than WMTC’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

• Rikki Lee Travolta has starred in, directed and choreographed productions throughout the country, including many in McHenry County. He has written two novels and a memoir. He now hosts a weekly musical theater radio program called “It’s Showtime with Rikki Lee” on 101.5 FM, or streaming and through podcasts on www.huntleyradio.com. His website is www.rikkileetravolta.com.

“IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A LIVE RADIO PLAY”

WHEN: Through Dec. 3

WHERE: Woodstock Opera House, 121 W. Van Buren St., Woodstock

COST & INFO: Adapted by Joe Landry and presented by the Woodstock Musical Theatre Company. Schedule: 8 p.m. Dec. 1; 2 and 8 p.m. Dec. 2; 2 p.m. Dec. 3. Tickets: $24 adults, $21 seniors and students. Tickets and information: 815-338-5300 or www.woodstockoperahouse/page/its-wonderful-life.

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