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Local angels make 'Wonderful Life' ring

Who can a guy turn to, when he comes up with an idea for a show and wants to make it happen? Sometimes, it’s the guy’s mom, and that is exactly what happened when Kirk Mouser, the executive artistic director of Stumptown Stages, wanted to “musicalize” one of his favorite movies, “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

by: PHOTO BY PAUL FARDIG - Donna Sellman-Pilorget, above center, reprises her role as Cousin Tilly in 'It's A Wonderful Life,' opening Nov. 21.Although the show is being staged in Portland, it has deep Clackamas County roots. For starters, Mouser is a Lake Oswego resident, and his mother, Janet Mouser, lives in Clackamas.

Janet Mouser is a veteran director and theater educator and part of the founding team of Stumptown Stages. In addition to being a playwright, she has worked as a librettist, costumer, prop designer and director of play development/dramaturge and serves on the board of directors for Stumptown Stages. She also has written plays and designed costumes for Milwaukie-based New Century Players.

“My mother carefully crafted the original script. She skillfully utilized Clarence as the storyteller with an ode to ‘Our Town’ in its complex simplicity,” Mouser said.

The show debuted last year in Portland and is opening again with a preview on Nov. 21 at Hatfield Hall (Brunish Theatre), 1111 S.W. Broadway, Portland. It continues through Dec. 22.

Birth of a show

In addition to working with his mother, Mouser’s idea for the musical was fully realized with the support of well-known Portland pianist and songwriter Michael Allen Harrison, Julianne Johnson, Stumptown Stages associate artistic director, and Rabbi Alan Berg, with whom Mouser co-produced the book and lyrics for the concert “Crossing Over: A Musical Haggadah.”

“I knew that with the support of Julianne, Michael and Alan, we had the most dynamic musical team outside of New York City. All of the pieces fell into place, and what was once a mere idea in my head, flourished into a full-fledged Broadway musical,” Mouser said. 

Corey Brunish, another Lake Oswego resident, is again the director of the show, and for those unfamiliar with the classic Frank Capra movie, starring Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, he described the plot as “the perfect story.”

“A man, a good man, runs into some problems, wishes he had never been born, but an angel shows him what the world would be like without him. As the story resolves, and he returns to his crisis, all the folks he helped along the way, now help him. It is the personification of ‘cooperation,’ the one thing the human race does better than anything, when we choose to,” Brunish said.

He said there are too many favorite moments in “It’s A Wonderful Life” to list, but “this time out we have a very simple and effective set concept, and we have some new folks, so that is always thrilling, and the message is the same.”

Mouser’s favorite moment in the show is in the first act, when Bailey sings a song of reflection at his father’s funeral, called “Watching From Heaven For Me.” This past summer, Mouser sang this song at his grandmother’s funeral, so it has a special resonance for him.

“She lived to be 100 years of age. She lived a simple life full of love and compassion. This beautiful song reflects the life of someone who puts other people’s needs in front of their own. It is universal in its meaning and touches all of us who have experienced the loss of a relative or someone close to us,” he said.

Clackamas County connections

There are 22 actors in “It’s A Wonderful Life,” hailing from Portland, Seattle, New York City and Clackamas County.

Donna Sellman-Pilorget, an Oregon City resident well-known in the area for her work with New Century Players, plays Cousin Tilly again this year.

“She is a fun character to play as she is less defined than the leads, which gives me a bit of leeway to add my own flavor to her. I take advantage of this by playing Tilly as a bit of a worry wart who is a little less than average in the worldly wise category,” she said.

Her favorite moment in the show is the same as Mouser’s, and for pretty much the same reason.

“I love the scene in which the whole cast gathers for Pop Bailey’s funeral. It is a very moving scene in which George Bailey sings a very beautiful song that inspires some of the actors to weep. The scene was actually quite bonding for the cast,” Sellman-Pilorget said.

Audiences loved the show last year and will love it even more this year, she said, because of the “roller-coaster of emotions it produces. It takes the audience on a familiar and friendly journey that ends on a high note, perfect for walking out of the theater into the gorgeous holiday season with spirits refreshed.”

Sam Jones also is in the cast of “It’s A Wonderful Life,” fresh off “9 to 5,” his previous show with Stumptown that just ended.

He is a 2012 Rex Putnam High School graduate and plays young George Bailey. It has been interesting as a 19 year old to play a 12 year old, he said.

Jones said he spends his downtime in the rehearsal process observing professional actor Jordan Stanley, who plays the adult George Bailey, so he can understand his character’s mannerisms and voice patterns.

“I also play Sam Wainwright, a spunky former classmate of George’s, whose wild, mischievous nature is unlike anything I’ve had the experience of portraying before. I also play George’s oldest son, Peter, and a couple ensemble roles,” Jones said.

His favorite moment in the show is when George and Mary sing the duet, “You Alone,” because “the melody and harmonies are so enchanting. This is an intensely romantic moment in the musical, where the two sing of touching one another’s souls.”

Jones noted that the music in this adaptation “was brilliantly written to fit the styles of the early 20th century, with beautiful, heart-warming ballads and plenty of jazzy grooves that hit you right in the jingle bells. The audience is certain to enjoy how the music complements the story and the time period, and may find themselves humming a tune and tapping their feet while they’re out doing their holiday shopping.”

Mouser said: “The cast sings and dances with a passion befitting the story they are telling. It truly is a ‘wonderful’ show, and we hope families across the Portland area will make ‘It's A Wonderful Life’ at Stumptown Stages their holiday tradition.”

An angel gets his wings

What: Stumptown Stages presents “It’s A Wonderful Life”

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, Nov. 21 through Dec. 22

Where: Hatfield Hall, 1111 S.W. Broadway, Portland.

More: Tickets start at $25; call 503-248-4335. For additional information, including group sales and subscriptions, visit stumptownstages.org or call 503-381-8686.



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