Music Guild takes another trip to Bedford Falls

Posted Online: Nov. 22, 2012, 4:10 pm
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By Jonathan Turner,
Quad-City Music Guild is taking another nostalgic trip back to Bedford Falls, and several of its 36 denizens are veterans of the 2006 Guild journey through the production of "It's a Wonderful Life: The Musical."

Jen Sondgeroth returns as Mary Bailey (played by Donna Reed in the classic 1946 film); Nathan Bates is George (first indelibly embodied by Jimmy Stewart), after playing brother Harry in the 2006 version;Greg Golz is guardian angel Clarence, after playing Mr. Martini last time; John Donald O'Shea reprises his role as the mayor; and Mark Holmes is the evil old man Potter, after being in the ensemble last time.

"It's just different. We had seasoned performers both times," music director Deb Swift said recently.

"I love the story. It was part of my family's traditions growing up," Ms. Sondgeroth said, noting her role as the perfect mom in the show means more today compared to six years ago, when her son, Ryan, was just 9 months old. She and her husband also have a 1-year-old daughter.

"It definitely resonates more. Things that have happened over the past six years, it's more meaningful to me," Ms. Sondgeroth said. "It's really part of the fabric of Christmas. So many people have a connection to it." Her kids are very excited about it, since they know the movie and songs now, she said.

"Being a parent definitely shapes your portrayal of the characters," she said. "It's what makes your life a meaningful and wonderful life."

Mr. Bates, who has a son who's almost 2, said: "Youknow what it feels like to sacrifice everything for your family, and see how the (show's) characters sacrifice everything for their family. It makes a huge difference."

The musical isa faithful adaptation of the Frank Capra film, written by Dove Award-winning composer Bruce Greer and lyricist Keith Ferguson. The tumultuous story of George Bailey and his life in Bedford Falls remains a timeless fable of dreams, disillusionment and the power of love, described as "an uplifting chronicle of the extraordinary lives of ordinary folks."

Itpremiered in Dallas on Dec. 18, 1998, and ran for five Christmas seasons. The Dallas Morning News wrote that "the musical is consistently impressive. The slick and memorable score and lush orchestrations capture the mood of the movie perfectly."

"It's a great movie. Jimmy Stewart is one of those actors, you watch him in anything and it just blows you away," said Mr. Bates, who has played Guild leads in "The Producers" and "Beauty and the Beast." "To try and walk in his steps, it's big shoes to fill."

He'snot necessarily copying him, but will give a flavor of Mr. Stewart, since that's what people expect, he said. "I don't want people to go away from this saying, 'That wasn't George Bailey at all.'" Mr. Bates said being in the show last time, and seeing how Mike Millar handled the role, has helped him.

Mr. Bates and Ms. Sondgeroth also were the lead couple in "Miracle on 34th Street" in 2007, and she was in "White Christmas" in 2010. She also played Anna in the Guild's "King & I."

Ms. Swift, of Moline, is in her second stint as orchestra conductor; her first was for "White Christmas" and she's been piano accompanist (and assistant music director) for 12 Guild shows since 1999, including the last "Wonderful Life."

Its scoreis "all over the place," she said, noting one song with country flair, a blues number and a Charleston dance. One of Ms. Swift's favorites is the Christmas Eve song that opens Act II.

The music "just gives it a different flavor," she said. "Instead of words to tell the story, it uses songs. It's very true to the movie." Since the last time Guild did the show, the composers have added a new solo number for Mary.

Mr.Bates said the songs give depth to the scenes and highlight famous lines from the movie. "To have that kind of emotion behind a song is something you can't really do with dialogue," he said in reference to his dramatic George songs on a bridge when he's contemplating suicide and after he decides he wants to live.

Director Deb Shippy, of Rock Island, is debuting in her role, after working as assistant director and stage manager for "Hello Dolly" and "Drowsy Chaperone." She also worked stage crew for Guild's prior three years of holiday shows.

"It's a well-known show, but it's not a well-known musical, and it's one of those shows people know and they appreciate, but the music in the show takes it to a different place," Ms. Shippy said of the new one. She also took on directing "for the challenge -- it took me completely outside my comfort zone."

She said the veteran cast members "are very good at what they do," and an equally qualified crew helped make her job easier, especially set designer Mark Holmes, who built the town on stage, with another spectacular Bill Marsoun painted backdrop. "It's a good group," Ms. Shippy said.

"And the pit sounds fantastic," she said. "I enjoy watching and realizing these people know what they're doing."

Though it's just been six years since the last trip down iconic memory lane, Mr. Bates said people cherish seeing holiday classics every year. "I think we could do it every year if we wanted to. I still think six years is a good enough period of time," he said.

"It's a story people associate with this time of year," Ms. Sondgeroth said. "Big groups of people make it their holiday tradition to come see the show."

If you go
What: "It's a Wonderful Life: The Musical."
When: 7:30 p.m.Thursday, Nov. 29, through Saturday, Dec. 1, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2.
Where:Prospect Park Auditorium, 1584 34th Ave., Moline.
Tickets: $15 for adults, $10 for children. Call (309) 762-6610, or go to


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