“It’s A Wonderful Life” – Hale Centre Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ October 24, 2011


Hale Centre Theatre
Gilbert, AZ

“It’s A Wonderful Life” is a great movie even though the story stoops to old fashioned sentimentality and blatant emotionalism to make its point about how important George Bailey’s life is even though he has lost faith in his purpose.

Frank Capra’s superlative direction coupled with the perfect cast has kept the film vibrant and moving even in today’s harsher and more realistic times.  Unfortunately, a creaky stage adaptation, now at the Hale Centre Theatre, appears old and dated as it provides this glimpse of bygone times when lives were simpler and less complicated than today.  The production, while fairly well acted, efficiently staged, and it re-creates the familiar story without alteration, won’t move audiences like the superior film.

The play opens in tiny Bedford Falls with George ready to commit suicide because his successful housing finance business is in trouble because an apparent $8,000 loss could close the company with a scandal.  Of course, since the story began, George is blessed by his watchful guardian angel, Clarence, who reminds him of the good things he’s accomplished.  By the end, the money materializes saving George and his business.  No surprises even if you don’t know the story.  The unusually short show is filled with silly machinations that resolve themselves easily and the simplistic characters never develop or change even though it seems to take an eternity to resolve the predictable events.

Since the outstanding movie is so well known, why present an inferior stage version?  Tom Koelbel’s George is earnest and heartfelt to an extreme but the actor is too old to be so naïve about life and to spend so much time discovering the richness of young love and establishing his place.  George Bufford essays Clarence, the angel, with underplayed sincerity and candor, but Mike Rolfe’s Henry F. Potter, the guy who wants to own and run the town, has trouble remembering his dialogue and telescopes his memory lapses instead of covering them and moving on.  His awkward pauses slow the show’s otherwise brisk pacing.  The rest of the large cast handle their roles with simple earnestness but Jori Mosier’s loving Mary, George’s supportive wife, Barbara Wood’s funny Aunt Tilly, and Dale Mortensen, who does a bang up acting job as Young George, stand out.

“It’s A Wonderful Life” won’t elicit the tears and hopefulness to anyone familiar with the film and it will appear boringly old fashioned and naïve to first-timers.  It continues through November 26.  For tickets, call the Hale Centre Theatre box office at 480-497-1181 or order tickets online at www.haletheatrearizona.com.

Grade: C