'Wonderful' lives up to name

James Petrillo

Hot on the heels of last year's "A Christmas Carole King" comes

another skewed take on a yuletide classic from the Troubadour Theater

Company, "It's a Stevie Wonderful Life," now playing at Burbank's

Falcon Theatre.

The Troubies use the 1946 film "It's a Wonderful Life" as a

blueprint for the story, then warp it just enough to fit in the best

of Stevie Wonder for its musical numbers. It's supremely silly and

relentlessly self- referential, yet never less than laugh-out-loud

hilarious.

All the familiar faces from the perennial Frank Capra fable are

present, but in some extreme forms. Director Matt Walker assumes the

role of disillusioned George Bailey, but with a giant "Jackson Five"

afro and Jimmy Stewart drawl.

Most of the major plot points remain, leaving plenty of room for

each cast member to add their own satirical touches and wildly

divergent takes on tunes like "Superstition," "You Are the Sunshine

of My Life," and "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing."

Morgan Rusler's wheelchair- bound codger Mr. Potter stands out, as

does Erin Matthews' wide-eyed take on George's patient wife, Mary.

Lisa Valenzuela tops her expert comic timing only when she sings the

sweetly rendered "Send One Your Love."

Jennifer Seifert memorably takes on dual roles as George's

daughter, Janie, and the town tramp, Violet, who belts out the

incongruent but lively "Part- time Lover." And Caleb Rapoport

provides an uncanny Christopher Walken impression.

But this production is director Walker's showcase, from the sweet

serenade "My Mary Amour" to the big closer "Signed, Sealed,

Delivered, I'm Yours." And the little side jokes sprinkled throughout

infuse the proceedings with spontaneous energy -- as if the spoof is

being created at that instant.

The troupe often breaks character, chastising each other when they

miss a line and embarrassing latecomers to the theater. They even

perform a preview of their next show "Fleetwood Macbeth."

These constant antics somehow manage to avoid overwhelming the

inherent sentiment provided by the tale, while musical director Andre

Holmes' band provides funk- tastic backup on songs you'll never hear

the same way again.

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