NORMAN — A musical version of “A Wonderful Life” not only had some good if not great song-and-dance numbers going for it, but easily movable props and a fine cast, which made its strong emotions seem more moving than manipulative.
The production, intelligently directed and choreographed by Lisa Fox, with Keith Adams conducting a nine-piece pit band, was staged for a large audience Saturday at Sooner Theatre.
Adapted from Frank Capra's classic 1946 movie, with lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and music by Joe Raposo, it never seemed forced or in a hurry, despite its more than 30 scenes, set in a wide variety of locations, including “heaven.”
Bryan Partridge gave a nicely paced and powerful, never overstated performance as George Bailey, whose dreams of college, world travel and great accomplishments keep getting postponed.
Partridge also got across George's growing feeling that all his work to keep his father's savings and loan business going has earned him precious little, like a character in a story he reads to his daughter.
Laura Bartlett had a strong, sweet voice and quiet intensity as Mary, the local girl who opts to settle down and raise a family with George, in the very house that they threw rocks at, making a wish, before she went to college.
Particularly touching were the couple's duets, expressing youthful dreams in “If I Had a Wish,” courtship surprises in “Not What I Expected,” and a still strong commitment in “I Couldn't Be With Anyone But You” and the title song.
Michael Gibbons brought great stage presence and restraint — always stopping just short of stereotype — to the musical's villain, Henry Potter, the banker who owns most of the town and wants the rest of it.
Gibbons as Potter seemed to have an especially good time trying to buy George, both body and soul, with good cigars and a fat paycheck, while performing his second act, “First Class All The Way” number.
Threatening to steal the show from these earthlings, at regular intervals, were Jay Winfrey and Jon-Philip Olson, who as a pair of white-robed angels in “heaven,” made an extremely good comedy act.
Winfrey was just fussy and exasperated enough as Matthew, constantly urging his apprentice, Clarence, played with humorous aplomb by Olson, to “concentrate,” if he ever wants to earn his wings.
Another scene stealer was Jackson Ewing as Sam, whose wealthy, glamorous lifestyle doesn't keep him from saying “hee haw,” and exchanging hilarious ankle handshakes with George, at nearly every opportunity.
More support came from James Briggs as Uncle Billy, Grace Anne Marcum as the town vamp, Marles Bailey as Mary's mother, and Evan Robison as George's war-hero brother, Harry.
Greatly helping to suggest the changing times, from the Roaring Twenties and Depression through World War II, were well-performed ensemble segments, dedicated to the Charleston, financial panic and welcoming Harry home.
Striking a good balance between entertainment and nostalgia, drama and melodrama, the Sooner Stage Presents holiday offering is highly recommended during the rest of its run.
— John Brandenburg