Spirited away

By Mary C. Cusack

Starlight covers flubs with holiday twinkle

Starlight Dinner Theatre has a different vibe than other local theater companies. Several factors contribute to this, starting with the pre-show dinner. Most patrons share a meal and chat for an hour, which creates a casual, convivial atmosphere.

The configuration of the room also adds to the positive impression. Being seated at round tables in the Waverly East Intermediate School cafetorium allows for people to share looks and laughs with each other more easily. The audience members interact and react more liberally than they might if seated in rows. Add to that the general cheeriness created by the holidays, and Starlight’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life” would have to be pretty horrendous to not be a crowdpleaser.

The overall good feeling elevates what might otherwise be a mediocre show to an enjoyable experience. “Life” has its share of less-than-wonderful moments.Frequent pauses during the dialogue between angels Clarence (Jim Noble) and Joseph (Bill Henson) often became uncomfortable, although Noble held his pose quite nobly while waiting to receive divine direction. The use of spotlights, while integral to the lighting design, was often wobbly and obvious.

However, these minor imperfections add to the charm of this labor of love.

The script runs hot and cold. Playwright Tom Sharkey, who passed away in 2008, certainly took on a challenge in turning one of the most beloved films of all time into a stage musical. The opening number, featuring the entire cast in a chorus begging the divine to “Save Him”
— him being George Bailey (Lawrence R. Clark) — is heavy-handed.
Critical events, such as George losing his hearing while saving brother
Harry from drowning and preventing pharmacist Mr.Gower from poisoning a customer with the wrong prescription, are deleted from the action and mentioned only in song.

However, the play hits its stride when mean Mr. Potter (Jeff Massey) is introduced, and it reaches its peak when Potter and his assistant (Bill Henson) do the number “I Hate You, George.” Massey is wickedly charismatic as Potter, and he and Henson turn the number into something of a marriage between the relationship of Mr. Burns and Smithers, from TV’s “The Simpsons,” and the campiness of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” When Massey was booed at the curtain call at last Saturday’s show, it was a high compliment to his hilarious, sneering performance.

With a belly full of walnut-crusted 1 chicken, Neighborly surrounded Xmas by 12/9 friends & and 12/16 family, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a lively enough way to get into the spirit of the holidays.

‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

music and lyrics by Thomas M. Sharkey Through Dec. 12 6:30 p.m. dinner,
7:30 p.m. show Friday & Saturday Waverly East Intermediate School,
3131 W. Michigan Ave., Lansing $18-$30 (517) 243-6040