It’s a Stevie Wonderful Life

This year's holiday offering from the Troubadour Theater Company, "It's a Stevie Wonderful Life," is amiable and silly fun even if the first act is more miss than hit. Inspired ad-libs from the strong cast take the show in unexpected directions, Matt Walker's helming is assured and inventive, and Eric Heinly's musical direction and band are topnotch. Some of the singing, however, is merely adequate.

With:
Clarence - Rick Batalla Tiny Tommy/Pa/Sam Wainwright/ Nick the Bartender/ Townsperson - Travis Clark Gower/Board Room Member/ Nurse/Townsperson - Beth Kennedy Mary/Nurse - Erin Matthews Harry/The Clone/Chippendale/ Townsperson - Matt Merchant Nurse/Mr. Partridge/ Townsperson - Breanna Pine Ernie/Young George/ Board Room Member - Caleb Rapoport Potter - Morgan Rusler Violet/Board Room Member/ Janie/Nurse - Jen Seifert Uncle Billy/Joseph/ Scrooge - Mike Sulprizio Ma - Lisa Valenzuela George/Usher - Matt Walker Bert/Board Room Member/ Old Guy/Chippendale - Dan Waskom Zuzu/Nurse/Mrs. Bert - Kimberly Wood

This year’s holiday offering from the Troubadour Theater Company, “It’s a Stevie Wonderful Life,” is amiable and silly fun even if the first act is more miss than hit. Inspired ad-libs from the strong cast take the show in unexpected directions, Matt Walker’s helming is assured and inventive, and Eric Heinly’s musical direction and band are topnotch. Some of the singing, however, is merely adequate.

The story follows the plot from the Frank Capra film “It’s a Wonderful Life,” with George (Walker) spending his life doing for others and denying himself. Some of the recipients of his goodwill include the pharmacist Gower (Beth Kennedy) and local businessman Mr. Partridge (Breanna Pine), as well as the town that he kept financially solvent. Frustrated with his current misfortune, a suicidal George explains to his guardian angel Clarence (Rick Batalla) that the world would be better if he’d never been born.

Walker is the energetic ringleader of this circus as George, and his Jimmy Stewart accent is very funny, at one point degenerating into the “baa” noises of a sheep. He pulls off the falsetto vocal on “My Cherie Amour,” and his dancing is notably nimble. Erin Matthews is appropriately charming as George’s wife, Mary, and is a good sport during kissing scenes, where Walker attempts to swallow half of her face. Batalla plays Clarence as if channeling “Zoot Suit”-era Edward James Olmos, and he is pretty consistently hilarious, particularly delivering a list of “so ugly” jokes.

Morgan Rusler makes for an amusingly cantankerous villain as Potter, and Kimberly Wood is a hoot as his slack-jawed Nurse, following his every movement and mimicking him like a faithful yet dim hound. Kennedy has fun with the intoxicated Gower, pulling off her coat and lurching into the audience, and Breanna Pine scores as the adenoidal Partridge, making a believable character from a smaller role. Caleb Rapoport’s Christopher Walken impression is expert, and Travis Clark’s “overacting” as Tiny Tommy provides one of the funniest moments in the show.

Walker is admirably open to trying new things as a director, and his use of live video pays comedic dividends. His backstage- in-the-booth family argument is entertaining, but the continuing live shot running through the theater hallways, with the cast doing bits of business at every turn, is a tour de force. The shift from black-and-white to color is clever and effective, but an impressively conceived black-light number using actors swinging from bungee cords and a stilt walker hasn’t quite found its balance yet in performance.

Any show that uses the continuing growth of an Afro wig from small to massive to show the passage of time is clearly touched by genius.

Ameenah Kaplan and Christine Lakin’s choreography uses the space and the ensemble in creative and entertaining ways.

It's a Stevie Wonderful Life

Falcon Theater; 130 seats; $40 top

Production: A Falcon Theater presentation of a musical in two acts by the Troubadour Theater Company. Directed by Matt Walker.

Crew: Sets, Mike Jespersen; costumes, Sharon McGunigle; lighting, Jeremy Pivnick; sound, Robert Arturo Ramirez; choreography, Ameenah Kaplan and Christine Lakin; musical director, Eric Heinly; production stage manager, Corey Womack. Opened, reviewed Dec. 12, 2008; runs through Jan. 4. Running time: 2 HOURS, 15 MIN.

Cast: Clarence - Rick Batalla Tiny Tommy/Pa/Sam Wainwright/ Nick the Bartender/ Townsperson - Travis Clark Gower/Board Room Member/ Nurse/Townsperson - Beth Kennedy Mary/Nurse - Erin Matthews Harry/The Clone/Chippendale/ Townsperson - Matt Merchant Nurse/Mr. Partridge/ Townsperson - Breanna Pine Ernie/Young George/ Board Room Member - Caleb Rapoport Potter - Morgan Rusler Violet/Board Room Member/ Janie/Nurse - Jen Seifert Uncle Billy/Joseph/ Scrooge - Mike Sulprizio Ma - Lisa Valenzuela George/Usher - Matt Walker Bert/Board Room Member/ Old Guy/Chippendale - Dan Waskom Zuzu/Nurse/Mrs. Bert - Kimberly Wood

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