Friday, December 4, 2015

"It's a Wonderful Life" comes to life live at Pit and Balcony

At the end of show all is well in the little town

Kevin Kendrick, left, and Chad William Baker

Review and photographs by Janet I. Martineau

A Frank Capra movie classic comes to real-life this week and next at Saginaw's Pit and Balcony Community Theatre. 

While the final dress rehearsal of "It's a Wonderful Life" was a bit sluggish in its overall pacing and had some tech issues with props, sound and sets, there is no denying it sports an excellent cast.

And that its story dating back to the mid-1940s is as relevant, and maybe even more so, in today's world -- that being one good person through a series of small acts throughout his or her life can indeed defeat the evil out there, even though they have no idea of what they've done.

Chad William Baker is cast in the famed George Bailey role, a small town banker about to commit suicide until an Angel Second Class intervenes and subjects him to a look back at his life and what the town would have been like without him.

Baker is in just about every scene and goes through just about every emotion possible – frustrated young  man wanting to leave town for life in a bigger city, compassionate  banker who rises to the occasion during the great depression, good guy engaging in a battle of wills with a really bad guy, total rage followed by absolute joy, and, of course, the attempted suicide.

Baker delivers supremely throughout. He IS George Bailey quickly on and we are totally involved in his story that unfolds.

But oh my gosh, matching him in the acting department is Kevin Kendrick as Henry F. Potter, who owns just about the whole town and is evil incarnate. Despite the fact his character is in a wheelchair, an image that usually invokes sympathy, Kendrick's use of voice and body inflections and calculated delivery of them are so ruthless they are chilling. He is from start to finish a rattlesnake coiled and ready to strike.

When Baker and Kendrick are alone on the stage in scenes together they are mesmerizing, often with a bright red light shining behind them and into the audience. Representative of the devil perhaps .... because that angel is nowhere around.

Also delivering fine performances are Diamond Magee as that angel, hiply dressed and with an interesting swagger; Bill Kircher as George's kindly Uncle Billy; Audrey Lewis as George's loving and concerned mother and Michelle Mersey as George's patient wife.   

And in small but really captivating performances are the four Bailey children – Ann Hadley Gorsline, Thomas Hoving, Samantha Stricker and Gianna Hoving. 

Jessica McFarland directs the production, which opens tonight.

And as written it is a bit of a nightmare -- a long series of short scenes set throughout the town. It is here, at least the night the night we saw it, where the show struggles a bit in making those quick transitions smoothly. Her actors, all of them, are right on target (especially in that quick and chilling "what if"  finale), but the tech crews not necessarily so.

Also a huge clinker breaking the mood is the hissing of the fog-making machine. It sounds like a freight train.

Gary Reid's set an impressive one with a variety of buildings and the huge bridge from which George is attempting to jump. It evokes the mood of a small town.

Overall this is a show and solid production of it needed right now in a world of horrendous headlines. Yes good exists, in numerous small everyday actions taken by the majority of us.

For more pictures