reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

With Indiana Repertory Theatre’s revered, traditional holiday fare A Christmas Carol set aside this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the venerable theatre company has moved on to a virtual entertainment with playwright Steve Murray’s This Wonderful Life, an adaptation of the screenplay for Frank Capra’s iconic holiday film, It’s A Wonderful Life. Directed by Benjamin Hanna and starring IRT regular Rob Johansen, this re-imagining of the beloved story is full of both familiar moments and surprises.

Mr. Johansen is in top-notch form in the role of The Storyteller, springing through characterizations, story points and side bars. Energetically playing every single citizen of Bedford Falls, his creative powers are as elastic as his facial expressions and body movements. His rendition of our hero George Bailey is offered with a deft nod to Jimmy Stewart’s portrayal, while Mr. Potter holds a sharp likeness to Lionel Barrymore’s efforts. Mary Bailey comes through as a gentle spirit, the children are all sweet and endearing, Uncle Billy is as outrageous as we remember him to be, and Angel 2nd Class Clarence Odbody is lovable and charming. Taken all together, Johansen has constructed the Masterwork of his career and hopefully, preserved in video form, we will revisit it for many years to come.

Rob Johansen is chameleon-like is his array of portrayals in IRT’s “This Wonderful Life”

Adding to the grand experience is the thoughtful set design by Rob Koharchik, the skillful costume design by Junghyun Georgia Lee, lighting by Xavier Pierce, and sound designs by Todd Mack Reischman. WFYI television provided the video production, which was coordinated by Nathan Garrison.

Bottomline: Everything comes together for a truly remarkable and commendable undertaking resulting in an immensely pleasurable holiday special. Johansen’s moving, humorous and skillful performance is a triumph. What we lost due to the cancellation of A Christmas Carol, we gained ten-fold with this new IRT classic.

Virtual tickets can be purchased at irtlive.com or by calling the IRT Ticket Office at 317.635.5252 Tuesday – Thursday from 11 am – 5 pm. 

  • – photos by Zach Rosing
  • – artwork by Kyle Ragsdale