The Observer Reviews It’s A Wonderful Life

Look for a great article about WHAT’s First Performance in the Observer!

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W.H.A.T. gets its wings

By Karen Zautyk

As a matter of journalistic integrity, I must state that I am not a fan of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” a Christmas movie beloved by the masses. In fact, I detest the thing, primarily because of its inherent, insidious sexism.

One example: As we learn from the wingless angel Clarence, had George Bailey never been born, his lovely wife, Mary, would have ended up as a (gasp) “old maid,” and even worse, a career woman. My reaction is that she would have been better off, not saddled with self-pitying, wimpy George and those annoying kids, especially whiny little Zuzu.
Okay, stop hissing at me. I know I’m in the vast minority here. But the above had to be said, to emphasize how, despite my prejudice, I had an absolutely wonderful time Saturday night at the production of “It’s a Wonderful Life” as staged by the new West Hudson Arts & Theatre Company.
If the energy, enthusiasm and talent evident at that show are any indications, Kearny, Harrison and East Newark have got themselves a community treasure.
Saturday’s show at the

Arlington Players Club on Washington Place was the inaugural production of the company (called W.H.A.T., for short), and it was completely sold out – no small feat for a fledgling theater group.
But that pales in comparison with the speed at which W.H.A.T. managed to get its acts (three of them) together. It was only last month when the company’s organizers, a cross-section of community and culturally-minded individuals, announced their plans to bring community theater back to West Hudson, which has been without such a company since the demise of the Half Penny Playhouse back in the 1980’s. As director Mark Morchel told your correspondent just before the show, “We went from sitting around a dining room table a month ago to a full-scale production!”
And quite a production it was. W.H.A.T. presented “It’s a Wonderful Life” as a 1946 “live radio play,” with 13 actors and actresses, all on stage together, at all times, portraying 40+ characters. Since there were no scenery or costume changes, it required the audience to use its imagination (With help from the sound-effects guy, Gerald Ficeto). And multiple roles required considerable talent from the players. Mission accomplished in both cases.

Your reviewer sat at the back of the room – the better to view the audience as well as the stage – and noticed that those in attendance were completely caught up in the show, perhaps because it was a completely different perspective on a very familiar story.
The cast (kudos to all) included: Gail Corrigan, Leonardo daSilva, Art Delo, Carol Jean Doyle, Joseph Ferriero, Tim Firth, Joan Hemphill, Ivan Jurlina, Melissa Miranda, Shannon Murphy, Danielle Pennisi, Lyndsay Vitale and Mark Wiggins.

Lizz Zazzi adapted the radio script; Jason Neri provided original music, and Michele Sarnoski handled production duties.
Following the performance, sound designer (and music educator) Ficeto talked to the audience about W.H.A.T.’s goals, noting, “Community Theater builds community pride.”
Involvement in a project such as W.H.A.T. “can truly be a life-changing experience,” he said, “and we invite you to join us on this journey.”

If you would like to get involved in W.H.A.T. or learn more about the group, visit or look them up on Facebook. There are numerous ways to participate and contribute. (You can also purchase a DVD of Saturday’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”)
W.H.A.T. is still seeking a permanent home, but it is already planning its second production, a two-character play called “Love Letters,” to be staged in February.
W.H.A.T. has a formidable mission statement. Among its goals: “To be a cultural resource that will enrich and invigorate the West Hudson community as a whole, while embracing, educating and entertaining people of all ages, cultures and abilities.”
If Saturday’s event was any indication, W.H.A.T. is already on its way to fulfilling that wish.
(Note: On the website, writer Anthony Buccino speculates on the role that remembrances of Nutley might have played in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” noting that Frances Goodrich, who co-authored the screenplay, grew up there. Of the scene in which Clarence the angel stops Jimmy Stewart from committing suicide, Buccino writes, “I see not a bridge in Bedford Falls, but the bridge over the Passaic River to Lyndhurst.” Hmm. Considering the mess created by the new traffic lights on said bridge, motorists might indeed be tempted to do a George Bailey.)


Courtesy of The Observer