Arena's 'Wonderful Life' musical is too much of a good thing


December 03, 1991|By Lou Cedrone

There is nothing wrong with the Arena Stage's ''It's A Wonderful Life'' that a pair of scissors wouldn't fix.

The show, overall, handsome and extremely professional, needs pruning. At present, the musical version of the 1947 Frank Capra classic is far too long.

It is both song and scene heavy. We would suggest the producers cut the number given to Potter, the curmudgeon who wants to rule all of Bedford Falls. It is he who wants control of the savings and loan managed by George Bailey, the young man who, faced with failure, decides to end it all.

He doesn't. We all know that George is saved by Clarence, the angel who shows George what life in the town would have been without him.

It's a marvelous tale, but it is a terribly familiar one. The film is shown some 1 million times each Christmas, and there have been so many rip-offs that a story this familiar should be truncated rather than lengthened. The show goes on for almost three hours, partly because there are far too many songs.

Sheldon Harnick (''Fiddler on the Roof'') did the book and lyrics. Joe Raposa did the music. Some of the songs are attractive. One, performed by the sons of an Italian immigrant (''Linguine''), is outstanding. Others, however, are just time passers.

Cut some out, cut out a scene or two that is unnecessary, and Arena would have a palpable hit on their hands. The costumes, direction and dance, for instance, are superb. The Charleston number is exceptionally well staged, and for the most part, the acting is fine.

Richard Bauer plays the evil Mr. Potter, and Jeffery V. Thompson is Clarence.

Casey Biggs is Bailey, and Brigid Brady is Mary, the girl he marries. Brady has a glorious voice. Biggs does well enough, though the final scene is a bit forced.

The angels don't fly in this production. They roller skate. It's a nice touch, but it doesn't always work because some of the performers are better actors than they are skaters, and we become too much concerned about their physical welfare.

''It's A Wonderful Life'' was set to music last year at Toby's Dinner Theater. The same production will be revived, and when it is, we will have a kind of battle of productions.

''It's a Wonderful Life'' will continue at Arena Stage, in Washington, through Jan. 5. It's an enjoyable affair. It would be more so with cutting.

''It's A Wonderful Life'' *** Musical version of the 1947 movie classic done by Frank Capra

CAST: Casey Biggs, Scott Wise, Richard Bauer, Jeffery V. Thompson, Terrence Currier, Tana Hicken, Halo Wines, Brigid Brady

DIRECTOR: Douglas C. Wager

RUNNING TIME: 175 minutes with one intermission

% TICKETS: 202 488-3300

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