It’s a Wonderful Life: Winging in the Holidays

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At the Desert Star Playhouse in Murray, you’re never sure what you’re going to get.

Granted, the shows — all original works — are always loosely of the same genre: melodramatic, musical parodies of well-known movies, plays or other parts of pop culture. But even following that format, there is variety, depending on what’s being parodied and who’s doing the writing.

The current show, “It’s a Wonderful Life: Winging in the Holidays” is a sweet, good-natured parody of the Jimmy Stewart Christmas mainstay, although “parody” may not be entirely accurate. It’s more a retelling of the story, only funnier and with road show-style songs. The original “It’s a Wonderful Life” isn’t really spoofed or mocked, even gently. How can you make fun of Jimmy Stewart, anyway?

The insular references to Enid Greene (Note to Desert Star: Enid Greene jokes aren’t funny anymore) and other Utahns are kept to a minimum this time around, and the few that do come up seem out of place. Again, this is because the show is more of a straight-forward comedy than it is a satire.

(One notable exception: When George Bailey (Kirt Bateman) sees Pottersville, the town-that-might-have-been, with all its bars and strip joints, he comments, “This place is starting to look like Provo!”)

The crowd-pleaser of the show is Uncle Billy, played with enthusiasm by Jack Drayton. He gets many of the best lines and manages to play Uncle Billy as humorously senile without making him pathetic.

At one point in a performance last week, a man sitting in the front row took the encouraged audience participation a little too far, and starting directing the actors in what to say. Drayton looked at the man, and said, in character, “I didn’t see your name in the script, pal.”

Later, when a teenage girl was brought onstage as an additional character, she was directed to kiss Uncle Billy. After doing so, he asked her, “Do you want your gum back?” That little bit was planned, not improvised, but it’s typical of some of the character’s more outrageous old-man-played-by-a-young-man shtick.

Puns, which are used abundantly in all Desert Star shows, pop up a few times here, too. One of the best:

“I’m late for my appointment with Vidal.”
“Sassoon?”
“Well, it’s been a month!”

Pianist David Lee Allen provides mood music throughout the show, often playing specific tunes befitting the situation. Two clever examples that may go unnoticed: When George Bailey comes home to his family, we hear the Primary favorite “I’m So Glad When Daddy Comes Home”; and when Uncle Billy tries to remember what he did with the money, Allen plays “Try to Remember,” from the ’60s musical “The Fantasticks.”

After the play, the cast performs the “Happy Holiday Olio,” full of seasonal songs, dances, and skits. Some of the biggest laughs of the night came from this portion of the show. Much of the entertainment is cheesy and lame, but that almost makes it funnier — you’re laughing at the fact that they actually thought you would laugh at that. Other parts, like the “Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree” bit, are genuinely clever and amusing.

One thing should be mentioned. Two of the song parodies in the Olio, “Wreck the Malls” and “The Restroom Door Said ‘Gentlemen’,” were “borrowed,” without credit, from the Bob Rivers Comedy Corp CD “Twisted Christmas,” made famous mainly through airplay on the “Dr. Demento” radio program. Since the rest of the show, and even the Olio itself, has some song parodies that ARE original, it is unfair — not to mention unethical — to let the audience assume that these two very funny songs are original as well.

The "Little Suzy Snowflake" number in the Olio absolutely KILLED us, for reasons for too offensive to explain here. Suffice it to say that the actress playing said character was not at all little.

I couldn't believe they actually thought they could steal two songs and not have anyone notice.

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