Hee-Haw: It's a Wonderful Li e
nytheatre.com review by Jason S. Grossman
December 4, 2009
Hee-Haw: It's a Wonderful Li e, written and directed by Daniel F. Levin, raises and answers the question whatever happened to Sam Wainwright, the guy who made it big but lost the girl in the classic holiday film It's a Wonderful Life. Here is the alternative universe from the film as seen through the eyes of Mary's jilted ex-boyfriend, the forgotten wheeler-dealer forever in the long shadow of George Bailey. Sixty-plus years after leaving Bedford Falls behind for the green streets of New York City, Sam finally has his say.
The show is a twisted, bawdy, occasionally outrageous conglomeration inspired by Frank Capra's classic film. It's augmented with old-time radio foley and bright authentic costumes and steered by an excellent cast. You'd be well advised to have some offbeat fun this holiday season and see this production.
Levin's witty script extrapolates on seeds planted in the Wonderful Life screenplay and shows us what occurred behind and beyond the storylines presented in the film. In fact, much of the film is re-imagined, and we see scenes from a completely different perspective. It's a treat to see such a familiar work re-worked this way. It all culminates in a bizarro fantasy sequence that turns It's a Wonderful Life on its head.
Capra's Sam Wainwright is a womanizer and a trailblazing entrepreneur. He is also a loyal friend to hero George Bailey. The play expounds on the friendship between Sam and George and explores their mutual jealousies. It weighs most on that ultimate prize: Mary Hatch (played by Donna Reed in the film).
Levin blurs the lines between theatre forms and smashes the fourth wall, creating a play within a vaudeville variety show (or is the other way around?). The production delights with nostalgic shtick, period melodrama, and some song and dance. There are copious doses of puns and even some original commercial jingles.
Levin stays true to the vernacular of the time and the effect is charming. The show bounces from scene to skit to musical number, all the while hosted with a wink by Sam Wainwright himself. It's a strangely balanced presentation with a touch of pathos.
For a Wonderful Life fanatic it's amazing to see classic scenes replayed from a different angle. Levin has done his homework and is fiercely loyal to even the most minute details of the film. He pays homage to the original while simultaneously critiquing, ever so gently, the dated aspects of the black and white story.
The talented cast scores mightily. Sam Port proves adept at playing numerous endearing characters, each hatched from the innocent golden age of Hollywood. Molly Thomas is razor-sharp in a full-blooded portrayal of Jane Pearson Wainwright, Sam's wife by default. Natalie Bird is perfectly disengaged as the Stage Manager. She's also responsible for many of the set changes and sound effects (and prepare to be blown away when she opens her mouth to sing). Felicia Ricci is terrific in multiple roles ranging from the sexy Violet Bick to Sarah the Angel. Michael Sutherland is sweetly goofy as Jimmy Stewart's George Bailey, played for the first time as a supporting character. Lauren Blackman and Jenny Nissel are also solid in the production.
As Sam Wainwright, Alexander Borinsky is simply outstanding. He hits every note superbly, exuding charisma and commanding attention every step of the way as the lead. He is riveting as the misunderstood, underappreciated Sam Wainwright. He breathes life into Levin's script and fully animates an otherwise peripheral character from the film.
Everyone is up to task in the production. Natalie Robin's lighting design furnishes the necessary mood of the various scenes/acts with pinpoint accuracy. Sheila Phalon's sets and Anna Lavicita's costumes help to recreate the time period and overall feel of the classic film.
Watch It's a Wonderful Life one more time, and then go see Sam Wainwright and friends in Hee-Haw: It's a Wonderful Li e.