KAYSVILLE — It’s A Wonderful Life is a holiday tradition. Hopebox Theatre is presenting the musical adaptation directed by Alisha Hall. To be honest, I had no idea there was a musical adaptation, so I was very excited when I arrived at the theater to learn about this show. The show boasts its book and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, who is well known for works such as Fiddler on the Roof and She Loves Me, and its music by Joe Raposo, who is the genius behind the music I grew up with in Sesame Street. However, this adaptation never had a life on Broadway, has no cast album, and is sadly not as well known as it should be.
The cast and crew at Hopebox have done a fine job of bringing this show to life, and it is a nice way to spend some time reflecting on my life and how everyone effects each other. Some of the more positive aspects of the performance were the fantastic vocals under the direction of music director Todd Wente. The full cast was a bit large for the small space at the Hopebox, but I understand the desire to include as much of the community as possible. It does make for a strong vocal sound that brings out the rich melodies in the big chorus numbers.
I also thoroughly enjoyed the choice of the set designers, Curtis Dalton and Jeff Davis, to utilize a minimalist turnstile design that was a wise use of space but gave plenty of diversity and change to the scenery throughout the show. I also liked how the corner was utilized for the scenes in heaven and how other spaces were used as necessary to break up the small stage and give the set more depth. Choreography by Phil Tuckett was best in the number, “In a State,” where the famous Charleston dance got to shine, though in other numbers the choreography also suffered from the small space at the Hopebox and the over-sized cast.
In any production of It’s A Wonderful Life, the character of George Bailey is crucial to the success of the show. Jeff Erickson played a strong George with a crystal clear voice that was evident from the opening number, “George’s Prayer.” I appreciated the simple lighting design of this number, by lighting designer Melissa Thomas, that reminded me that this story focuses on the impact of this one character. Also impressive in this retelling of the classic story was the insight brought into the character of Mary, played by Stefanie Carr. Stefanie Carr’s performance of the song, “Not What I Expected,” was a great look at how everyone can take a better approach to the different ways that life turns out and still find joy. Additionally, Stefanie Carr’s second act number, “I Couldn’t Be with Anyone but You,” was a touching take on a love song that I found impressive. I found the chemistry between Stefanie Carr and Erickson to be exactly what needed to happen in order to make the story flow and to make the outbursts that come from George’s character later in the show more forgivable.
The character of the angel Clarence, played by Shaun Carr, was played to a level of humor and ham that I am not sure how I felt about. The character may have been written that way, especially considering the song, “Wings,” and it may just be my personal preference that I found the song off-putting. Shaun Carr certainly has a strong voice and played the song well, but I wondered if the camp was too strong for the subject matter at hand; however, it is possible that is exactly what the author of the show had intended.
Other characters of note were Cody Eisenbarth as brother Harry Bailey and Donald Eisenbarth as the mean Henry Potter. The young Cody Eisenbarth played well the scene coming back after college and expressing to his character’s brother that Harry would not be returning in the way that he had promised, a difficult scene to portray with empathy. I have usually felt nothing but contempt for that character in the past, so I was surprised to find myself feeling understanding when seeing this scene. When watching the elder Donald Eisenbarth as Henry Potter try to convince George to step into a life of luxury, I could feel the temptation and was enthralled with the role of the villain.
An addition that I enjoyed was the four carolers that were in place before the show, during the set changes, and during intermission. I did not see these ladies specifically credited in the program, but they set the mood before the show and kept the mood during the show, which was a nice touch.
As always, it is nice to support the Hopebox mission of blessing the lives of those struggling with cancer through the arts, especially during the holidays. It’s a Wonderful Life is certainly a great show to remind people of the importance of each life. From a story first published in 1943, the message is clearly still relevant today.