St. Albert Children’s Theatre mixes sentimentality with laughter and music

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REVIEW
It’s a Wonderful Life and Elf, the Musical Jr.
St. Albert Children’s Theatre
Arden Theatre
5 St. Anne Street
Tickets: $22 to $28 Call 780-459-1542 or at http://www.ticketmaster.ca

At first, St. Albert Children’s Theatre pairing of the perennial chestnut It’s a Wonderful Life and the contemporary Elf, the Musical Jr. seemed baffling.

It’s a Wonderful Life is a popular parable about George Bailey, a desperate businessman who considers himself a failure. It is Christmas Eve and he faces financial ruin. Standing on a bridge George contemplates suicide but is saved when Clarence, an Angel 2nd Class, shows him what the world would be like if he never existed.

On the other hand, Elf, The Musical Jr. is a silly comedic spoof about an abandoned orphan who crawls into Santa’s sack and accidentally hitches a ride to the North Pole. When Buddy discovers he is human, he travels to New York City to find his birth father, a workaholic completely unaware of his son’s existence.

Yet director Janice Flower makes these divergent stories work providing theatre-goers with two very different views of Christmas that ultimately carry the same message – there is nothing more important than family and friends.

It’s a Wonderful Life celebrates the lives and dreams of ordinary citizens who try to do the right thing for their neighbours. It shows us the power and optimism of a community in saving George, a small town dreamer who sacrificed everything to help others. It’s wonderfully touching, sentimental and completely charming.

Played as a series of flashbacks, we see George torpedo his dreams to travel the world after his father dies unexpectedly. We see his romance with Mary, a childhood friend and how he protects the town with his own faltering savings and loans company from the ravenous greed of Mr. Potter, an evil banker.

Kudos to Ben Brown, as George Bailey, who appears in virtually every scene. Brown plays George as a man of conviction who never compromises his beliefs. Natalie LaBuick, as his wife Mary, is the perfect partner – strong but in a sweeter, more grounded fashion.

But the man who steals every scene is Ethan Kidney as wheelchair bound Potter. Kidney’s Potter has such contempt for people it sends chills down the spine. You just love to hate the character.

In Elf, the Musical Jr., our hero is an over-caffeinated 30-year old who retains many child-like qualities. He is also innocent, caring, compassionate, loving and optimistic and has a heart as big as the arctic.

Buddy is faced with challenges after meeting his biological father, Walter, a long-time candidate on Santa’s “Naughty List.” Walter is a self-centred workaholic who puts everything above his family and barely notices his 12-year old son. The last thing he wants is another child.

And then there’s Jovie, Buddy’s love interest, who sprinkles the sugary patina of Christmas with a dash of lemon. This is a gal who has been let down by life and the stars in her eyes have faded.

Cameron Chapman as Buddy explodes across the stage with high-energy excitement that is tempered by delivering jokes with a deadpan naiveté. You can’t help but root for him.

And Matt Boisvert as Walter, injects the right amount of cynicism as the over-worked, crabby children’s book editor who learns the importance of compassion. Sasha Khan as Jovie shows off her singing chops and terrific breath control. This girl can really hold her notes.

If promoting kindness, staying upbeat and valuing others is important to you, check out St. Albert Children’s Theatre winter production.

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About Author

Anna Borowiecki

Anna Borowiecki joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2000. She reports on local people and events in the arts, entertainment and food industry. She also writes general news and features.