George Bailey (David Leyshon

Review: It really was A Wonderful Life at the Chemainus Theatre

Musical spin on Capra's Christmas-film classic shows how friends are really angels earning their wings

Moviemaker Frank Capra would have liked Chemainus Theatre’s merry, musical version of It’s A Wonderful Life.

Sure, it’s hard to beat the creative depth of his 1946 Christmas classic — and the aw-shucks epiphany of Jimmy Stewart.

But theatre director/choreographer Peter Jorgensen’s cast and stage band poured us a stiff shot of pre-yuletide cheer during Friday’s heartfelt opener.

David Leyshon did sturdy duty as selfless every-guy, George Bailey.

We can relate as he fights to help everyone in Bedford Falls, feed his family, and save his sinking Building & Loan business.

Leyshon seemed more crooner than actor at times, seamlessly backed by musical director Nico Rhodes’ adept stage trio.

Leyshon was in fine company with Jeff (Phantom of the Opera) Hyslop as lovably tipsy Uncle Billy, Alison MacDonald as George’s gregarious wife, Mary; and David Marr as his guardian-angel, Clarence Oddbody.

Clarence coins the famous phrase ‘Everytime a bell rings, another angel gets his wings.’

That one line is this play’s magic — its Tinker Bell, if you will.

But Clarence must earn those heavenly wings by helping a sulking George eat his wish to never have been born.

He’d never have rescued countless friends and family from financial and physical ruin.

You see, like George, we all wrestle with life’s unfair bummers.

It would be easy to give up.

And George snaps under pressure from sour banker, Henry Potter (Tim Dixon).

Thankfully, Comical Clarence shows George the error of his wish.

Like Scrooge, George realizes his value of kindly helping others, including Bailey kids Zuzu (Stephanie B.) and George Jr. (Lorne H.).

Indeed, Wonderful Life is a year-round guiding gift as we count our blessings.

We all have an angel on our shoulder.

The kind that gave us Gershwinesque music during Isn’t It A Pity?; Nice Work If You Can Get It (nifty hoofing from Hyslop); Heaven On Earth; and Love Me As Though There Were No Tomorrow.

Piano-man Rhodes was ably backed by bassist Marisha Devoin, and drummer Alicia Murray.

It all happened on Marshall McMahen’s bridge-and-staircase set. It became a Bedford Falls’ bar, living room, and a bank, with moveable furniture.

However, we needed a realistic gun-shot by Bert the cop (Damon Calderwood); more sleaze from Violet the hooker (Becky Hachey); and more emotion from George frantically searching for his former self.

Toss in 10 more townspeople to bail George out of financial ruin.

Still, Wonderful Life works well as a mighty, micro-version of Capra’s hit.

Angels are earning wings everywhere. Hear that bell?

Christmas musical-drama rating: 8 wings out of 10.

It’s A Wonderful Life runs until Dec. 31.

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