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Moving 'A Wonderful Life' musical plays in Norman

Duets from lead couple are especially touching in the musical presentation of “A Wonderful Life” at Sooner Theatre in Norman
BY JOHN BRANDENBURG Published: December 6, 2013

— 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.

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