Arts & Theater

Theater review: Songs don’t add a note to Capra tale onstage

Jerry Lee, center, stars as George Bailey, whose family story is at the center of Sacramento Theatre Company’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life – The Musical.”
Jerry Lee, center, stars as George Bailey, whose family story is at the center of Sacramento Theatre Company’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life – The Musical.” Barry Wisdom Photography

Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” works beautifully because among its many attributes is a perfectly constructed narrative.

In the intimate epic of George Bailey’s life story, small moments are writ large, and his dreams continually are kicked aside for the greater good of family and community. In that we recognize the depth and value of a humble life.

The musical version of the film – “It’s a Wonderful Life – The Musical,” now playing at Sacramento Theatre Company – adds songs to the story. However the songs don’t add much to the already emotionally heightened story; they just make it longer. It’s one thing to watch George and Mary fall in love, but another to hear them a sing a middling song describing what we just experienced.

This is STC’s second year staging the musical as its holiday production, and despite the bravura performance by Jerry Lee as George and an equally engaging turn from Tyler Wipfli as Mary Bailey, there’s still an unevenness to it. Initially Michael Laun’s direction had a sharpness and focus that gave the production a promising bounce, though the inspiration fades some. Gary S. Martinez produces a smartly villainous Mr. Potter without chewing any scenery in the process, and Jim Lane’s goofy Clarence the angel sounded stronger vocally than last year.

The book by Keith Ferguson – he also wrote the lyrics with music by Bruce Greer – closely follows the spine of the movie, lifting many of the memorable lines. Of course, much of the movie’s action cannot be re-created on stage so we only hear about George’s early exploits – saving his brother’s life by pulling him from beneath the broken ice at the pond, catching Mr. Gower’s prescription mistake and thus saving another life. Similarly truncated in the play’s second half is George’s “Pottersville nightmare” after he wishes he’d never been born. Those scenes bring pathos to the movie, making George’s journey back to the living more moving and less melodramatic.

Lee heroically pulls off George, and his moving performance of “My Life” in the second act was climactic. Wipfli’s Mary feels attractively modern and self-assured. She sings beautifully and is much missed while she’s off stage in the second act. Though the play and its production here hit many of the marks worn into our psyche by the source material, it’s a diluted experience.

The music is all prerecorded, and the primary performers wear microphones for audio clarity, but sound repeatedly dropped out during vocalists’ solos.

STC needs to reconsider its audience reseating policy during the performance. Twice during the first act, patrons got up and strolled out to the lobby and then trotted back to their seats a couple minutes later. One of those entailed crossing in the very front of the stage as a scene was being played. Those disruptions are tremendously inconsiderate for the rest of the audience and rude to the performers giving their very best on stage. Other theaters wait for appropriate breaks or intermission to reseat patrons, and STC should as well.

Call The Bee’s Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120.



What: A reprise of the classic film turned into a musical play. Michael Laun directs Jerry Lee as George Bailey, Tyler Wipfli as Mary Bailey and Gary S. Martinez as Mr. Potter

Where: Main Stage, Sacramento Theatre Company, 1419 H St., Sacramento

When: Continues 7 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 28.

Tickets: $20-$40

Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including one intermission

Information: (916) 443-6722;