Stage Struck Review

Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years

Angel Wings: Sierra Madre’s “Wonderful Life”

There are few classic films more associated with the holiday period than “It’s a Wonderful Life.” This is the good news and the bad news for any theater trying to field an adaptation, particularly on one of the area’s small stages. Everyone has the film memorized, and any break from the characterizations can be touchy. Finding the right people to play the right parts the right way can be a major challenge.

Fortunately, Sierra Madre Playhouse has found a solid crew of performers who keep to the general timbre of the movie, while handling James W. Rodgers’ adaptation of Frank Capra’s original with a comparatively natural sense. Director Christina Harris has a feel for the material, and respect for it. Indeed, the only thing which irritates is the constant and somewhat slow moving set changes in this episodic tale.

Scott Harris has captured just enough of the lilt of Jimmy Stewart so that, though they bare little resemblance, the tone remains recognizable. In the process he gives George, the small town loan company operator, an undercurrent of offhand warmth which knits the show together. Likewise, Karl Maschek gives the angel, Clarence, a wry tone which carries his gentle humor, creating a character reminiscent of rather than a copy of what one remembers. It’s a delightful performance.

The same shows up throughout. Jack Kandel makes an enthusiastic villain as the evil Mr. Potter. Nancy Young has just enough of Donna Reed about her to make Mary warm and nurturing. Chuck Lacey dodders neatly as Uncle Billy, and Alison Janes walks the fine line between flirt and fallen woman as Violet. Gerry Orz as Tommy, Sophia Davis (alternating with Meg Momsen) as Janie, and especially Charlotte Hardy (alternating with Jessie Ellico Franks) as Zuzu make lovely work of the Bailey children.

Lois Tedrow pulls together clothes which are general approximations of 1940 fare. Don Bergmann’s set uses the space remarkably well, awkward set changes notwithstanding. It even has a bridge for George to contemplate jumping off of – a remarkable feat on the small SMP stage.

Put all of this together and you have a sweet and sentimental story about sacrifice and appreciation which stands up well. Indeed, there were few dry eyes in the house as George is toasted “the richest man in town.” Nice way to spend a couple of holiday season hours.

Please patronize this show and this theater. Putting on shows is expensive, and community theaters always suffer from a kick in the budget. SMP lost a week of its run to the windstorm and power outages. Perhaps this time part of the holiday spirit is giving a break to this venerable little stage.

What: “It’s a Wonderful Life” When: Through at least December 23, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and Wednesday, December 21, and Sundays at 2:30 Where: Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd. in Sierra Madre How Much: $25 general, $22 seniors/students, $15 children under 12 Info: (626) 355-4318 or

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