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It’s a Wonderful Life Receives Musical Premiere

By • West End
The long-planned stage musical version of film classic It's a Wonderful Life will receive its world premiere on 17 September 2009 (previews from 10 September) at the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich, where it has a limited run until 3 October, prior to a hoped-for West End transfer (See The Goss, 17 Feb 2005).

It's a Wonderful Life is produced by Avalon Promotions. The comedy promoters first broke into musical theatre with Jerry Springer - The Opera, which won scores of awards when it transferred from the National to the West End in 2004 but subsequently courted controversy when a TV broadcast prompted widespread protests from Christian groups who deemed the satirical, expletive-heavy show as blasphemous.

In Frank Capra’s 1946 black and white film, a festive viewing perennial, Jimmy Stewart played George Bailey, who grows up in the small town of Bedford Falls, dreaming of travel and adventure. Facing financial ruin by circumstances beyond his control, George discovers the true riches of love and friendship when a guardian angel named Clarence, who he meets on Christmas Eve as he contemplates suicide, shows him what life would be like if he'd never existed. Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore and Henry Travers also starred.

The musical of It's a Wonderful Life is the brainchild of Stephen Brown (of Olivier Award-winning Spend Spend Spend renown) and Avalon producer Jon Thoday, who first had the idea two decades ago. Over the years, problems with obtaining the stage rights – for both Capra's film and Philip van Doren Stern’s original short story, on which it’s based – caused extensive delays.

Contrasting it with Jerry Springer, Thoday has previously said that, in the screen-to-stage family musical, “there’s not a single swear word and it won’t upset anybody.” He also anticipated that it would be a "big show, bigger than Jerry (which ran 1200-seat Cambridge Theatre) - the sort you have to do at the Palladium or the Drury Lane".

In the world premiere stage production of It's a Wonderful Life, Paul Thornley plays George Bailey, alongside Jo Servi as Clarence. The cast also features Helen Anker (as George’s wife Mary), Michael Fenton Stevens, Kerry Washington, Paul Leonard (town despot Henry F Potter), James Paterson (Uncle Billy), Chris Grierson (Harry), Tony Stansfield, Harrison Hugo Harold, Bryan, Lucinda Shaw, Neil Smye, Keith Anthony Higham, Mairi Cowieson, Gemma Atkins and Francesca Ellis, as well as two teams of children playing seven roles, including Harry Salter and Charlie Pitman who alternate as young George.

It's a Wonderful Life has music and lyrics by Stephen Brown and a book by Brown and Francis Matthews. It’s directed by New Wolsey artistic director Peter Rowe, designed by Libby Watson and choreographed by Francesca Janes, with musical direction by Dane Preece.


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