Marla McLean (left), Mike Shara and Blair Williams provide uplift for down times.
IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE adapted by Philip Grecian from the film by Frank Capra (Canadian Stage). At the Bluma Appel (27 Front East). To December 20. $20-$90. 416-368-3110. See Continuing. Rating: NNN
Perennial holiday classic It's A Wonderful Life shows no signs of dying.
Philip Grecian's adaptation of the Frank Capra movie showcases its timeless story and adds some edge to its nostalgia-filled message.
Grecian sets the work in a 1940s radio station where a bunch of lively actors are performing the drama, complete with cheesy or ingenious sound effects (created by John Gzowski's onstage foley artist) and commercial breaks to shill products reflecting the prosperity and optimism of postwar America.
Everyman George Bailey (Mike Shara) has been forced to give up his ambitions to stay in the town of Bedford Falls, look after the family business and raise a family. When a crisis hits, he considers suicide - although tellingly, the word's never mentioned - and a guardian angel helps him see what the world would have been like without him. Cue the kleenex.
The plot covers decades and multiple locations, so you can see why Grecian opted for a non-traditional approach. That said, there's not a lot to watch onstage - although the actors try their best.
Juan Chioran's actor, Tyrone Dixon, besides voicing the show's baddie, Mr. Potter, is also a bit of a womanizer away from the microphone. Shara and his radio show leading woman (Marla McLean) may be starting an affair. And in her interactions, Tracey Ferencz in a variety of roles subtly suggests a lot of behind-the-scenes drama.
But you have to be looking away from the actors at the mics to take in these tiny details. The most theatrical bit of staging in director Donna Feore's production is a dance sequence that of course makes no sense for the radio but at least gives us something to watch.
In the lead, Shara makes the hopes, dreams and failures of his George seem real and affecting. Watching his acting co-stars gradually get caught up in the story themselves is one of the show's highlights.
Another, naturally, is the unintentional contemporary resonance of the script, which tells of bad loans, foreclosures and surviving an economic depression. Talk about relevant.