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Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012

Depth Beyond Sentiment

It’s a Wonderful Christmas at Next Act

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A Google image search for "sentimental Christmas movie" pulls up many images from Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life. Next Act Theatre does a brilliant job of bringing the sentimental story to the stage in a breathtakingly refreshing way that cleverly adds depth. Playwright Mary MacDonald Kerr stages the story as a live radio show being aired near the end of the era of live radio in 1957. An impressive cast plays Milwaukee radio actors doing one last show before the fictional WNAT goes to an all-music format.

Actors who have known each other for a number of years play beloved film characters in a sentimental Christmas story. It's a really simple idea that infuses new life into the story. Kerr's work here is a delicate, cleverly reserved and faithful adaptation of the original story which overlays drama between the actors, all of whom put in really enjoyable performances. Kerr and Norman Moses play a reluctant pair of former lovers in a refreshingly complicated relationship that contrasts against the original story. Bo Johnson plays an actor of ample talent and the story's arch villain, along with a number of other minor roles. David Cecsarini, who also directed the show, casually slides in and out of multiple characters while providing minimal and surprisingly effective sound effects without calling much attention to them. Jack Forbes Wilson is in good form here as both comic actor and comic musician. Debra Babich plays to the heart of the story as a woman far more talented than what she's given to do here. It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Show! runs through Dec. 9 at Next Act Theatre. Tickets may be purchased online at www.nextact.org or by phone at 414-278-0765
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