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Its a Wonderful Life — Portlands new holiday tradition

Show has many local connections


by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: PAUL FARDIG - From left are Chrissy Kelly-Pettit, Donna Sellman-Pigorget as Tilly (with camera) and Jared Michael Brown.Stumptown Stages has given Portland a new holiday tradition with a musical adaptation of Frank Capra’s classic film “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

The list of people involved in the production provides more than a hint that it is stellar entertainment. Kirk Mouser of Lake Oswego is the artistic director of Stumptown Stages. The book for the production is by Janet Mouser; music and lyrics are by Michael Allen Harrison, Alan Berg, rabbi at Lake Oswego’s Beit Haverim, and Julianne R. Johnson-Weiss. The play is directed by Tony Award winner Corey Brunish, also a Lake Oswego resident, and choreographed by Valarie Grudier Edwards. Starring as George Bailey is Seattle’s favorite leading man Jared Michael Brown with Chrissy Kelly-Pettit as his wife, Mary Bailey. Matthew Barnett plays the delightful guardian angel Clarence, and John Branch is George’s arch-enemy, money-grubbing Mr. Potter.

“It’s A Wonderful Life” is a holiday favorite for all ages. An angel helps a compassionate but despairingly frustrated businessman by showing him what life would be like if he never existed.

“It’s a story of cooperation,” said Brunish. “George is always the man who helps others. He chooses to cooperate, and when he finds himself in an odd position of desperation they come to his aid without hesitation. It’s a magical moment.”

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: PAUL FARDIG - 'A Wonderful Life' features Aida Valentine, left, as Zuzu, Chrissy Kelly-Pettit as Mary and Jared Michael Brown as George Bailey.“’Wonderful Life’ is a musical drama,” said Berg. “It’s the funniest show I can remember. It is consistently funny.”

It is a testament to the talents of the cast and crew that only 15 rehearsals were held before the opening night on Nov. 23.

“This is a brand-new show — it’s a WIP, a work in progress,” said Brunish. “Since the first draft we’ve made lots of changes to the script and music on the fly. We’re still making changes and improvements. On Broadway, a new show would have 40 rehearsals before the show opens. We don’t have that time. It’s exciting to say, ‘These changes go in tonight!’ This is theater at its best!”

Brunish has been nominated for a Grammy Award as producer of the “Nice Work If You Can Get It” CD. He received a 2012 Tony Award for producing “Porgy and Bess,” whose CD is also nominated for a Grammy. He also served as producer for the Broadway productions of “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Peter and the Starcatcher.” The former received two Tony nominations and the latter five Tony Awards this season. Brunish served as producer for the original cast recordings as well as assistant director on “Bonnie and Clyde.” Locally he directed productions of “Company” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

The former received national recognition in the Sondheim Review magazine. He also directed the film “That’s When It Hit Me,” which played the festival circuit internationally.