Wonderful Life

From Left, Katherine Walker Hill, Jack Delaney, Kaitlyn Wise and Connor McAndres

It is always tricky taking a beloved movie and turning it into a stage show. Even trickier when you add music.

The translation doesn’t always work too well.

So I admit to some trepidation when I went to see “A Wonderful Life” at the Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre Thursday night.

Not only is the movie upon which it is based one of the most beloved in the history of the movies, but I had bad memories of a production the Dutch Apple did some 20 years ago.

Happily, that was different, much clunkier adaptation  (”It’s A Wonderful Life: The Musical”).

“A Wonderful Life” was written by Sheldon Harnick, with music by Joe Raposo.

Their adaptation and director Paul Bernier do as good a job as you can hope for in bringing the iconic story to the stage.

“A Wonderful Life” is, of course, the story of George Bailey, who on Christmas Eve, facing ruin at his building and loan, contemplates suicide and wishes he’d never been born. The angel, Clarence arrives, after seeing George’s life of lost dreams unfold, and shows him what life in Bedford Falls would be like if he’d never been born.  

The music isn’t a knock out, though most of the songs are quite serviceable. But everyone sounds good, including JP Meyer’s five piece band.  

The dancing is strong, especially in the Charleston number.  The choreographer us Lauren Leorcher Sobon.

And it  is a smart looking production, with terrific sets by Evan Adamson.

Some characters and scenes are streamlined — for example, the drunk pharmacist, Mr. Gower,  is nowhere to be found.

Other characters are bumped up, especially Clarence, the angel second class who is looking for his wings.

He is rather obsessive about getting those wings, which brings some fresh humor to the show.  Connor McAndrews is a delight as this very different Clarence and he and head angel Matthew (Robert Gadpaille) have some fun scenes.

But the show remains true to the story even if some  things have to be changed to work on stage.

George isn’t going to jump into water, he’s going to stand on a train track and wait to get run over, which  works well, though the final scene in Act I is bizarre.

Jake Delaney has the thankless role of George Bailey. Nobody on the planet can really make it their own with the iconic Jimmy Stewart firmly planted in everyone’s head. Delaney has a nice dry  wit and nice chemistry with Katherine Walker Hill, who plays his wife, Mary, but he is very stiff on stage.

Hill is a warm and lovely Mary and Kirk Lawrence is terrific as the evil Henry Potter, who is always at the forefront of George’s problems.

Luther Chakurian does a nice job as George’s father and Wes Drummond is a lot of fun as Sam Wianwright,  George’s friend, who made it big and never lets George forget it.

I’m afraid Michael Weaver, as Uncle Billy, is no match for the great Thomas Mitchell from the film.

While you can’t expect this musical to replace the film in your heart, it’s a lovely reminder of the power of the mesaage of “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

“A Wonderful Life” runs through Dec. 23 at the Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre, 510 Centerville Road.  Call 898-1900 or go toDutchApple.com, for tickets.