IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE

Gateway Theatre, in conjunction with Patrick Street Productions, until 31 December

My Two Cents

My Two Pence

By Charlie Upton

 

Gateway Theatre has once again produced a clean, impressive musical production, this year in association with Patrick Street Productions. Based on the classic 1946 film of the same name, Peter Jorgensen notes in his Director’s Notes that he hopes that the music can reach the universal truths outlined in the traditional tale of learning our ‘greatest gift’ and appreciating our lives worts-and-all. If you haven’t seen the movie, I recommended it, I’ve only seen it once but I bawled for about twenty minutes at its conclusion, and whilst this production did not reach that level of emotional connection, it hits some great notes (no pun intended).

The opening sees an original credit projection with the names of the cast, band and creative as the overture soars. The cast is revealed behind the scrim mourning the missing character, George Bailey, around which the story revolves. It’s a nice transition from screen to stage, mirroring the creation of the production itself, which sets the style of this lengthy musical – clocking in at 2 hrs and 30 mins.

If you’ve had the fortune to see Patrick Street Productions show you can count on the calibre of talent gracing the Gateway Stage. Peter Jorgensen has assembled some of the best talent in town in this ensemble. Erin Palm is dazzling as Mary Hatch; there are fun turns by Cameron Dunster and Nathan Cottell in their many ensemble roles; Nick Preston as Harry Bailey shows a solid character arc from carefree younger brother to celebrated war hero and Nick Fontaine is, well, Nick Fontaine (that’s a good thing). The stand out is Greg Armstrong-Morris, who manages to maintain the comic role in the show with a grounding in truthfulness and resists any chances to overplay or exaggerate as Clarence, and it is perfectly delightful to see this kind of control and modesty in what could easily be played as a very silly character. There really isn’t a weak link here, including impressive turns by the two child actors Kenzie Fraser and Alexander Sheppard-Reid.

 

Stand out moments include Jim Hibbard’s drunken and fun rendition of ‘Nice Work If You Can Get It’, and the chemistry and perfectly blended vocals of Palm and Fontaine in ‘Isn’t it a Pity’, which makes excellent use of the well designed stage by Brian Ball.

Whilst the band is beautiful (led by competant Musical Director Angus Kellett), the arrangements (by Nico Rhodes) well-chosen and fit well to the action, and the vocals from the ensemble cast electrifying at times; the addition of all of that music (no less than twenty songs) caused the production to seem very long, too long. This is show with a lot to pack in with the dialogue and action alone. It is an unenviable task figuring out how to crop text to make way for music, in this case I feel that balance wasn’t quite right.

Nonetheless, this is a very enjoyable way to spend an evening. Gateway Theatre has become known for it’s big musicals at Christmas, having taken a diversion of course last year with A Christmas Carol, it seems to be directly back on track with this polished, enjoyable classic.

 

By Kelly Moncton

 

Many parts of the holiday season are about nostalgia and tradition. The classic movie, It’s A Wonderful Life, isn’t part of my family’s traditions, so I walked into Gateway Theatre at a disadvantage. After so many years, the story has been adapted and used in many other mediums, so I was familiar with the plot, and I enjoy the music from that time period. Despite this familiar material, and the polished production values, I didn't quite fall in love with this musical version of the story.

 

Nick Fontaine was very strong as the frustrated, kind-hearted George. Because the story revolves around his emotional and moral choices, the other characters aren't allowed as much nuance and depth. Nonetheless, many of the actors onstage impressed with their clear characterization, making their stock characters as believable as possible. There were so many crisp, clear details on the technical side as well, from a charming set designed to look like George’s plans to the lush, well-balanced band. The singing was also consistently lovely, with even complicated crowd moments sounding confident. 

 

Perhaps the songs compressed the story into too tight a corner? During some parts of the play, it felt like we spent nearly as much time on set and costume changes as we did on actual acting, because there were so many small snippets of scenes around the town. I appreciated each song for bringing more life and energy to the show, but they didn't feel like an integral part of the story-telling.

 

In amongst Gateway's season full of stories of visible minorities and women, this is certainly one of the more traditional stories, with it's focus on the struggles of a relatively affluent and well-educated straight white man in 20th Century America. Of course, the theme of interconnection and kindness is so valuable and timeless! If the original movie was part of my holiday traditions, this might have been a more treasured experience for me. Arriving to the theatre a bit disconnected, It's A Wonderful Life was just a pleasant evening spent with someone else's nostalgia.