When you combine a thoroughly compelling story that is well written and brilliantly adapted to the stage, with a superlative cast of near flawless actors and a proven director of unquestioned skill and true passion what you get is “It’s a Wonderful Life” currently at the Sierra Madre Playhouse now through January 14, 2012. This performance is truly sensational, riveting, hilarious, warm, charming and filled with joy. It is in keeping with the Sierra Madre Playhouse tradition of bringing some of the best stage work to its charming if diminutive playhouse. You could spend much more at some of the better known big venues in southern California but you will get nothing as totally enjoyable as this wonderful play.
The curtain opens and there is a very obviously distressed George Bailey played with exquisite skill by the richly talented Scott Harris who is not entirely coincidentally the husband of Director Christina Harris. Before George leaps off of the bridge Clarence Odbody portrayed with great finesse by Karl Maschek arrives on the scene to help George Bailey reconsider his situation. George Bailey is at first annoyed with the arrival of an unexpected and unwanted interloper but Clarence Odbody chips away at the resistance explaining that he is actually an angel. Oh the absence of wings – simple, he is an angel second class there to earn his wings by turning George away from suicide.
The play is set in Bedford Falls on Christmas Eve 1945. The nation is at war and the local economy is deeply stressed. There is the obligatory evil greedy banker who everyone quickly loves to hate. This character is so utterly contemptible he could almost drive you to become an occupier. I have not seen anyone since Edward G. Robinson who could actually make a bad guy so oddly lovable as was masterfully done by Jack Kandel.
Seriously, watching this play blessed me with laughter and made me just feel great all over. It is that good, that much fun and filled with many significant life lessons chief among them, never ever quit and always count your blessings. If you never see another show, see this one. Fortunately it has been extended until January 14, 2012 so grab some tickets and stick them in your Christmas stockings or under the tree. Consider it a modest investment in your mental health and happiness. And by the way allow me to point out that while I placed some emphasis on three actors and their respective characters, the entire cast richly deserves massive kudos for their stellar performances. You will undoubtedly agree once you watch them in action.
The Sierra Madre Playhouse is located at 87 W. Sierra Madre Boulevard, Sierra Madre, California and if you have never before been to Sierra Madre allow yourself a little extra time to stroll around this beautiful village. Show days are Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday Matinees at 2:30 p.m. Ticket prices are from $15 to $25 and there are no bad seats. Reservations may be made by calling 626-355-4318 or online at www.sierramadreplayhouse.org.
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