"No One Is A Failure Who Has Friends!"
After an 8 year absence from theatre and 20 years from Denver Stages, I returned in 2008 for a show at The Arvada Center, (no less) essaying Matthew, The Executive Angel in the Musical Adaptation of the Frank Capra- Jimmy Stewart Holiday Movie Favorite as well as being re-united with Music Director, Martha Yordy and Rob Costigan who worked with me at the Aurora Fox production of "Forum". No less than Joe Raposo did the score and I can't help but remember 20+ years back during "12 Angry Men" at Regis College when I talked with Director-Actor Sonny Wasinger about a stage treatment which, at that time, he was preparing. I've since found out that this is one of (at least) three musical versions.
The Set- "You
Are Now In Bedford Falls"
The pit area at Center near the foot of stage is where Music Director-Buddy Martha Yordy is housed below deck. The audience blind is removed and you can barely see Martha's monitors and sheet music. Flanking rectangles are audio speakers. If you look close near center stage lateral you can see a curved track running from Left To Right which was used to move set pieces through garage door style facade panels directly under each balcony. The Right Balcony is "Heaven".
As "Matthew, The Executive Angel" with Rich Hicks as "Clarence Oddbody, AS2"
The Charleston Contest. Cuttin' a rug L to R in foreground are Chris Sergeef (also a great singer) and the hard-workin' very talented Choreographer Kitty Skillman-Hillsabeck. L to R upstage are Amy Board as Violet Bick , Ben Dicke in the loud plaid coat as Harry Bailey (who does at least 3 other roles in the show), Juliana Black and my buddy from Forum at the Fox- Rob Costigan, Justin Sapp and Jillian Lee at center (who also does 3 other roles). Partially hidden near the up left center platform is veteran Susie Leiser as Mrs. Hatch, Daniel Langhoff as Sam Wainwright singing at the mike, Joseph Bearss as Ernest Bishop and Valerie Hill as Karen Zimmer (who can belt out some serious soul!).
Seen here in his role as Bob Hepner with Dan Fosha, Rob Costigan (L) played "Hero" in my productiuon of Forum at the Fox some 20 years back. Rob is a 'triple-threat' performer and a good buddy.
A Wonderful Cast
L to R- Front Row: Daniel Langhoff, Drew Frady, Rob Costigan, Amy Board, Gregory Price, Heather Fortin-Rubald, Keely Kritz, Jimmy Bruenger, Jenny Cippola, Ryan Norris, Shawnee Elliot, Kitty Skillman-Hillsabeck, Justin Sapp, Rich Hicks
Back Row: Jillian Lee, Alan Swadner, Juliana Black, Joe Bearss, Rachel Turner, Ben Dicke, Dan Fosha, Christine Paterson, Mark Rubald, Susie Leiser, Paul Page, Chris Sergeef, Valerie Hill, Me
Denver Post Ad
L to R Keely Kritz as "Zuzu". Dan Fosha as George and Christine Paterson as Mary
Paul Page and Christine Paterson
Paul Page: I worked for Paul's Dad about 25 years back in a Denver Cafeteria. It was great fun to finally do a show with him and meet his Family as well as discover his versatile talents as a singer and actor.
Christine Paterson: One of the local reviewers described Chris's singing voice as "Old Fashioned" when in point of fact, she is an accomplished Coloratura with intonation and control that is rarely heard (I'm guessing to the 4th Octave). She's living in New York with her Husband.
Juliana Black: is a "triple threat" entertainer very skilled in character portrayal and a terrific hoofer.
December 2, 2:09 PM by Deb Flomberg, Denver Theater Examiner
Keely Kritz, Daniel Fosha, and Christine Paterson
in the Arvada Center's A Wonderful Life
Photo by P. Switzer
When you think of December and all the wonderful movies, songs, and television specials that get us in the mood for the holiday season, what tops your list? Miracle on 34th Street? National Lampoons Christmas Vacation? A Christmas Story? All good choices. But there is one movie that tops everyones list. It was even ranked at number one on AFIs 100 most inspiring American Movies. Of course I am talking about Its a Wonderful Life. The Frank Capra film staring (sic) the legendary Jimmy Stewart inspires us all and is one of the most sure fire ways to get me in the holiday spirit. So what happens when a legendary film is made into a stage musical? A Wonderful Life was given the musical make-over in 1990 with music by Joe Raposo and the book and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. Harnick is perhaps best known for his work on Fiddler on the Roof and Raposo is probably best known for his work on Sesame Street. It is an odd combination of musical talent that has collaborated on a project such as this, but would this team of strong talent be able to give this show the musical treatment it deserves?
A Wonderful Life, directed by Bev Newcomb-Madden and musical direction by Martha Yordy, is now playing at the Arvada Center. The story is all there. George Bailey, the small town banker, tired from all the struggles of life and about to commit suicide is rescued by his guardian angel, Clarence. Clarence then shows George just how much worse life would have been for all his loved ones if hed never been born at all, thereby showing him the true value of his life and reminding him and us just how important we are to our family and friends. Of course there were a few changes and variations on the script, but for the most part everything was there. The one glaring ommison (sic) for me was the absence of the pharmasicst (sic) scene from the movie, in which George goes deaf in one ear. The fact that George was deaf in one ear always stood out as an important addition to his struggles in life. This version does mention that he is deaf in one ear but never goes into the why. I am sure that it was left out for time, but I felt it was an important aspect of the story that was missing.
The production of A Wonderful Life is stunning. There was a clear vision and Newcomb-Madden certainly delivered. Daniel Fosha took on the difficult task of portraying one of the most well known characters in all of entertainment history. As George Bailey, he did not simply do his best Jimmy Stewart impression, instead he made the role his own and kept all the warmth and familiarty (sic) that was required for George. Christine Paterson as Mary Hatch was also warm and tender, and actually reminded me quite a bit of Donna Reed. Rich Hicks Clarence was every bit the adorable and eager angel that we all root for and I particularly loved the cabdriver and the cop - Bert and Ernie. The two roles are small but essential and were perfectly supported by Drew Frady and Joseph Bearss. The performances were all superb. The cast, the chorus, all the supporting roles, and even the adorable children that all took part in this production. Everyone was strong, with the velvety voices that are so important in a holiday musical.
Lowell V. Noel as
Matthew with Rich Hicks as Clarence.
Photo by P. Switzer
This brings me back to my original question. Did this show get the musical treatment that it deserved? The answer is - mostly. For something as legendary as Its a Wonderful Life, the music supporting it must be very strong, and the songs in this version are mostly forgetable (sic). Though they were all beautifully performed by a very capable cast and supported by an impecable (sic) orchestra, in the end I sit here now not able to hum a single tune from any song in the show.
Holiday entertainment is a rich tradition, full
of White Christmases, Uncle Scrooges, and Grinches Galore. In the
end, if the purpose of Its a Wonderful Life is to
get you in the holiday spirit, to bring a few tears to your eyes,
and to cause you to listen closely for any ringing bells, in
hopes that an angel just got his wings well then it
November 25 - December 28, 2008
Arvada Center for the Arts
Main Stage Theater
Adapted from the Frank Capra film
Its a Wonderful Life
Book & Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Music by Joe Raposo
Directed by Bev Newcomb-Madden
<<The one glaring omission for me was
the pharmacist scene from the movie, in which George goes deaf in
one ear. The fact that George was deaf in one ear always stood
out as an important addition to his struggles in life. This
version does mention that he is deaf in one ear but never goes
into the why. I am sure that it was left out for time, but I felt
it was an important aspect of the story that was
Lowell V. Noel: While I agree that the Mr. Gower omission is cogent, my cast mates have pointed out that according to the movie after George rescues Harry from the lake, it is at that point that Joseph says "George caught a cold which infected his left ear and cost him his hearing". Gower just exacerbated it and caused it to bleed. I took a small issue with Bev about Clarence's inscription at the end which, to me is just as relevant and was also omitted i.e. "No man is a failure who has friends".
December 3, 5:11 PM
Deb: Lowell, Thank you for commenting. Very
interesting points indeed. I certainly agree the "No Man is
a failure" quote is very relevant and one of my favorite
lines from the movie.
December 3, 5:30 PM
Two troopers in this cast are Heather Fortin Rubald (standing 2nd row Center above as Ma Bailey) and Choreographer Kitty who came to work at Country Dinner Playhouse one night on May 22, 2007 and discovered the property had been seized for default of tax payment and the doors padlocked. Not to be denied, they (along with the entire cast) stayed to greet an unsuspecting audience and staged an impromptu performance of "Evita" in the CDP parking lot.
Looking more than a
little disappointed but NOT defeated
Heather Fortin Rubald, left, and Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck
Denver Post photo taken on the night of closing.
Other Christmas Shows
A Christmas Carol at The Smothers Theater
A Christmas Carol at The Aurora Fox
The Radio City Christmas Spectacular