Inside View: The It's A Wonderful Life UK Workshop

News   Inside View: The It's A Wonderful Life UK Workshop Jon Thoday, the producer of Jerry Springer—The Opera, held a semi-staged workshop for his latest project, a musical version of the James Stewart movie classic, It's A Wonderful Life on Feb. 17. Playbill On-Line was invited to attend the session at the Riverside Studios in London's Hammersmith.

The workshop cast included two Springer alumni, David Bedella as Ace the angel (ironically he played the devil in Thoday's other show), and Benjamin Lake as Uncle Billy (Lake played God in Springer). Other principals included Paul Thornley as George, John Owen-Jones as Potter and Kelly Price as Mary.

The show is by Steve Brown (who won an Olivier Award for Spend, Spend, Spend), and Matthew Francis co-wrote the book and lyrics. The musical director is Mark Dorrell.

Thoday told Playbill.com how he has been hoping to stage the show for more than a decade. "It was in 1985, when I was 26 years old, that I started trying to bag the rights. I'd seen Steve Brown's show Elmer Gantry at the Gate in London and loved it, but we couldn't bring it into the West End because there were rights problems. Steve wanted to do Wonderful Life. But getting the rights to that has taken all this time, during which I acted as Steve's manager. It was only really after Spend gave Steve a decent track record that people started taking us seriously."

Thoday bought the rights to the story on which the film was based and then brought Paramount, who owned the movie, in on the project. (Paramount executives were at the reading with a view to possible investment.) The show will have a budget of £7 million, says Thoday. He could not, however, give a definite production date, but did say that it didn't have to be Christmas—"Although it's known as a Christmas film in America, I think Brits just know it as a good film for the whole year round."

After the workshop, a pumped-up Brown confessed how delighted he was to finally be getting close to staging his pet project: "A girlfriend I had at the age of 22 taught me two invaluable things. She showed me how to dice onions, and she showed me `It's a Wonderful Life.' Both had a profound effect on my life." Brown also explained why he thinks of the film in musical terms. "It sings. The story has so many lyrical dimensions, it's about big life questions." He first met Thornley (who took the James Stewart role) at a cricket match, after which he recruited him for his own cricket team. It was only later that he discovered his talent for musicals, and cast him in a supporting role in Spend (he later took over Keith, the male lead). None of the workshop's cast, however, is confirmed for the full production.

Song titles in the show, though these might change before its West End incarnation, include:-
"I Sleep Like a Baby"
"Bedford Falls"
"Nothing's So Easy as Love"
"I Was Just Passing By"
"This Is What I Wished for"
"A Different World"