Review: Gamm Brings 'It's a Wonderful Life' to Vibrant Theatrical Life

by Will Demers

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday December 1, 2021

The cast of 'It's a Wonderful Life' at the Gamm Theatre.
The cast of 'It's a Wonderful Life' at the Gamm Theatre.  

The Gamm Theatre joins other local organizations in returning to something we were incredibly unsure of a year ago — live theater —with the holiday attraction "It's a Wonderful Life," an adaptation of 1946 fantasy film that historically flopped at the box office only to become a beloved classic. Produced and directed by Hollywood royalty Frank Capra, it was speculated at the time of the film's release that he had lost his touch as a successful filmmaker. 

It was only when the copyright fell into public domain that everyone began to see the magical journey of George Bailey. The Gamm produced their own version as a "radio play" in 2019, in which a live cast reenacted the film's script onstage with sound effects, commercial jingles, and creative lighting. Not long after, the pandemic hit; by the 2020 holiday season, Gamm's streamed version of the show last year truly was a radio broadcast.

Back in the "studio" with a live audience is Artistic Director Tony Estrella as the hapless Bailey, Fred Sullivan, Jr. as Potter/Clarence, Emily Turtle as Announcer/Zuzu, Jeff Church as Harry/Ernie, and Lynsey Ford as Mary/Rose. Also returning is Richard Noble, while newcomer Helena Tafuri rounds out the main cast as Violet/Janie. DJ Potter is their live Foley artist who skillfully re-creates the sounds of Bedford Falls' dramatic world. Sullivan brings his commanding voice to bear as he inhabits Harry Potter's evil board member, and Jeff Church is delightfully animated as he navigates his characters. Estrella makes a fantastic George. 

The cast is all in fine form, especially when leading the attendees in sing-alongs, reading messages from the guests, and singing jingles based upon local businesses sponsoring the program. And while it's a return to the less complicated time of postwar America, we're reminded that money was the root of many problems even back then. George thinks his life has completely fallen apart despite a loving family and supportive friends; the angel Clarence makes him realize that his life has touched many even in his small town. You cannot help but be moved by a story that was written 78 years ago. ("Life" is based on "The Greatest Gift" by Philip Van Doren Stern and inspired by Dickens' "A Christmas Carol.")

Indeed, one can see the themes of redemption running through both stories; with "Carol," several ghosts show Scrooge what his life has become, while in "Life" an angel shows George what his life means to others. Director Damon Kiely, who is the chair of performance for The Theatre School at Chicago's DePaul University, returns to helm this production, and brings considerable talent to the proceedings. A tight, well orchestrated affair, "It's a Wonderful Life" brings a classic to vibrant life in its highly theatrical context.

"It's a Wonderful Life" is currently running through December 24th at The Gamm Theatre, 1245 Jefferson Boulevard, Warwick, RI 02886. Patrons must present either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test before entry. Masks are required for all patrons while in the venue. For information or tickets call 401-723-4266 or visit