Promotional image from The Bard’s Town.
This Wonderful Life
Written by Steve Murray
Directed by Doug Schutte
Review by Craig Nolan Highley
Entire contents are copyright © 2018, Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.
“Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.” If you’re like me, the holiday season really hasn’t run its course until we get our annual fix of watching Jimmy Stewart running through Bedford Falls and screaming “Merry Christmas” at the top of his lungs, over and over. If you also are a fan of the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life, then you are absolutely going to love what The Bard’s Town is up to right now.
Playwright Steve Murray has reimagined the entire film as a showcase for a single actor, and The Bard’s Town’s Artistic Director (and frequent director, actor, and playwright) Doug Schutte takes the challenge with wonderful results. Schutte directs and performs dozens of characters for nearly an hour and a half, exhaustingly running around the stage and changing persona and voice to great effect. His impersonations of Jimmy Stewart and Lionel Barrymore are particularly spot-on.
The play streamlines the plot of the famous Frank Capra film to tell the story of George Bailey, a man who spends his life dreaming about seeing the world, but can’t stop putting other’s needs ahead of his own and never manages to leave his hometown of Bedford Falls. He frequently butts heads with the wealthy miser Mr. Henry F. Potter, who continuously tries to take over the town but is foiled by George at every turn. One particularly disastrous night makes George think his loved ones would be better off if he’d never been born, and he gets a Christmas miracle courtesy of his guardian angel Clarence Oddbody.
This is definitely a show for fans of the film, as a lot of the humor requires familiarity with the source material. But Schutte plays it all with such unabashed joy and skill I can’t imagine someone unfamiliar wouldn’t be entertained anyway.
Schutte also designed and built the set, creating multiple scenes on the small playing area without ever having to close a curtain or go to a blackout to make scene changes. It’s a remarkably clever design that gives us plenty to look at and perfectly sets the stage for the story.
He also uses projections to evoke the different changes to the story, and it is here where I think he could have done more. Through the whole first act there is only one scene projected, and then several during act II. I think it would have been more visually interesting if he’d taken more advantage of this aspect of the production.
But that is a very minor quibble with an otherwise flawless production. Definitely what the season calls for, and I highly recommend it. As a bonus, try to speak with Schutte after the show. He has several witty and interesting stories to tell about the show and also the movie itself!
This Wonderful Life
November 16 – December 1 @ 7:30pm
The Bard’s Town
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205
Click here for tickets
Craig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director and producer for more than 12 years. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006, and currently serves as their Board President. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo.