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Final show Sunday 8 p.m – A wonderful life, a wonderful musical: a story about how we treat each other

by Patrick B. McGuigan
Executive Editor

The production of “It’s a Wonderful Life” – closing its second annual run at Oklahoma City’s First Baptist Church on Sunday evening (December 11) – is a superb musical adaptation of the popular 1946 motion picture.

Sabrina Davis returns as Mary Bailey, and captures the heart from the moment she steps on stage. Her interpretation of “My Future” is Broadway-level quality, romantic singing. Pure tone, crisp alliteration, endearing tenderness – all these characterize the delivery of this actress.

Just minutes after her triumph comes the First Act show-stopper, in “Bless You, George Bailey,” with amusing lyrics rewritten to the tune of the opera classic, “O Sole Mio.” Joe Hodges as Mr. Martini can watch voice strength and power the best, and Kristin Rogers as Mrs. Martini is his perfect foil.

Davis and Hodges could sing anywhere, but they sing here. What elevates this production is that the rest of the cast rises to the occasion, delivering character interpretations with grace and aplomb.

Lane Davis is back in the lead part, George, a giving soul beloved in his home town, but suffering from dreams deferred. Jamie Stephenson and Marie Davis return in supporting parts, but arguably deliver (with Davis) the core story theme in the tender ballad, “A Place to Call Home.”

Dennis Dotson is Clarence, the angel (second class) who has not yet earned his wings. He is capable and deft throughout, delivering thematic punch lines with aplomb and wit. It is Dotson who provides the uplifting reprise of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” carefully laying the stage for Davis’ passionate prayer to regain the family and the life he nearly tosses away.

Keith Ferguson, who wrote the book and lyrics for this revival, is powerful and authentic on stage, as the Scrooge-like Mr. Potter.

Ferguson cooperated years ago with Bruce Greer, who wrote the enchanting songs that retell this popular tale. Bruce and his wife Kim, ministers of music and worship at First Baptist, produced this show.

The story of the Baileys has always had its critics, but it is easy to see our town, and our country, in the good, the bad and the ugly of the full story arc. Every life makes a difference, and we need each other. Is it too sentimental? That depends on how you think human beings can. or should react to social and economic stress.

Consider the headlines from Europe’s financial turmoil, bankruptcies of long-standing American businesses, and continued obstacles to contemporary recovery, despite celebrations of a strong “Black Friday.” Will the Great Recession devolve into a double dip, or are booms like those of the 1950s, or 1980s, or 1990s still possible for America?

Whether the economy is good or bad, how will we treat each other as our future becomes our present? If you believe life is “a gift sent from heaven” and “there’s a purpose just for you” – if it is true that Heaven hears prayers “in the darkness of the night” – then can Oklahomans still live up to the truths at the heart of this story?

In two Christmas seasons, First Baptist has made this enchanting tale its own, and why not? This production has both co-authors of the musical version in key production roles, and a cast full of good people giving a permanent home to that place we remember, Bedford Falls.

The story of “The Greatest Gift,” first crafted by Depression-era writer Phillip Van Doren Stern and then immortalized for the post-World War II generation by film director Frank Capra and a young war veteran named Jimmy Stewart has now found its natural home – in a “reboot” that works beautifully within the worship space of a downtown congregation.

Given the blessing of homegrown works of art like this, it is, indeed, a wonderful life.

This year’s final performance is Sunday evening at 7 p.m. at First Baptist, 1201 N. Robinson. It costs $10. Pack the house, people.

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