Humor, tears, and song combine in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ at Toby’s Dinner Theatre

This musical based on the beloved film is a cozy show for the greatest time of year.

To me, the best art can comfort and help me understand a disturbing world such as this. It’s a Wonderful Life is a well-known tale about redemption and serving the greater good that is relatable to many people the world over. The 1946 movie adaptation stirs up many feelings — and tears at times.

It’s a Wonderful Life – The Musical follows George Bailey from his early aspirations to see the world to his later challenges in life. In its staging of Michael Tilford’s adaptation of the beloved and well-known film, Toby’s Dinner Theatre preserves the emotions and humor of the original. As directed by Artistic Director Toby Orenstein, this show is a new holiday classic for the family.

This show is heavy on musical numbers; Conductor Ross Scott Rawlings shepherded flawless tunes. It also has exciting choreography thanks to Tina Marie DeSimone.

DeCarlo J. Raspberry (Joseph), Justin Calhoun (George Bailey), and David James (Clarence) in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life – The Musical.’ Photo by Jeri Tidwell Photography.

The stars of this show are the irrepressible comedy duo of DeCarlo J. Raspberry and David James as the angels Joseph and Clarence respectively. In this adaptation, the angels were involved in nearly every scene with that age-old conceit of being invisible to the main characters. Raspberry was the straight man to James’ goofiness as he explained the replay of George’s life. James brought the audience many grins and laughs.

A show like this must have a relatable George Bailey, and Justin Calhoun brings that quality and more to the role. A veteran of many shows at Toby’s, Calhoun played varied emotions and showed strong vocals in numbers like “George’s Decision” and “Ya Gotta Have Wings.”

George’s wife, Mary, was well portrayed by MaryKate Brouillet. I liked her duet with Calhoun in “I’m At Home.”

The Bailey Family (Lucas Rahaim, Jana Sharbaugh, Gwyneth Porter, Justin Calhoun, and MaryKate Brouillet) in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life – The Musical.’ Photo by Jeri Tidwell Photography.

Robert Biedermann brought just the right amount of meanness to the miserly, bitter Mr. Potter. From his wheelchair, he snarled and growled his way through many scenes, making a challenging foil for George.

The affable Uncle Billy was well-played by Andrew Horn. I really felt for Uncle Billy when he made a critical money mistake. George Bailey’s friends Ernie and Bert were played by Shawn Kettering and Jeffrey Shankle respectively. Kettering brought good vocals to “The Honky Tonk.”

I liked the enthusiasm Gerald Jordan brought to George’s friend, the optimistic Sam Wainwright. David Bosley-Reynolds was patriarchal and wise as Peter Bailey George’s father. The energetic A.J. Whittenberger, in his 32nd show at Toby, played Harry Bailey.

Susan Thorton got some good laughs as Mary’s mom, Mrs. Hatch, in a pivotal, romantic scene. Gwyneth Porter was adorable as George’s daughter Zuzu; she had a moving scene with Calhoun.

“The Greatest Gift” featured moving vocals by Adrienne Athanas’ Ma Bailey. The ensemble numbers, such as “Vespers for the Common Man,” were some of my favorites, and I think worked the best.

The cast of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life – The Musical.’ Photo by Jeri Tidwell Photography.

For the dinner theater configured in the round, Toby’s scenic design, by David A. Hopkins, consisted of a mix of fixed set pieces, scenery wagons, and flown lights and chandeliers. The most impressive piece was a section of a bridge, placed up a flight of stairs, that was integral to the story.

Lynn Joslin worked magic in her lighting design because when sections of the stage went dark, scenery wagons and other set pieces appeared seemingly out of nowhere as the lights came back up. Sarah King’s costume design was a spot-on representation of post–World War Two attire; she really earned her money with the resplendent, white angel costumes. Shane Lowry’s properties design included such gems as vintage phones.

Orenstein made all the aforementioned blend into quite an enjoyable evening of musical theater. I liked that many of the extraneous scenes and asides from the film were excised.  My one quibble is that some musical numbers could have been shorter. This is a cozy show for the greatest time of year. Audiences of all ages will feel deeply as well as be entertained.

Running time: Two and a half hours, including a 20-minute intermission.

It’s a Wonderful Life – The Musical plays through January 15, 2023, at Toby’s Dinner Theatre, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, MD. Tickets ($57–$79) can be purchased by calling 410-730-8311 or online.

The menu is here.

COVID Safety: Guests are required to show proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 or proof of a negative test taken within 72 hours of performance, along with a matching photo ID. Masks must be worn indoors at all times except while eating and drinking. Toby’s Dinner Theatre’s complete COVID policies can be found here.

It’s a Wonderful Life – The Musical
Book and Adaptation by Michael Tilford

CAST (in order of appearance)
Joseph: DeCarlo J. Raspberry
Clarence: David James
Young George/Pete Bailey: Lucas Rahaim
Young Mary/Janey Bailey: Jana Sharbaugh
Mr. Gower: Adam Grabau
Uncle Billy: Andrew Horn
Peter Bailey: David Bosley-Reynolds
Mr. Potter: Robert Biedermann
George Bailey: Justin Calhoun
Clerk/Mr. Carter: Jordan B. Stocksdale
Ernie/Chairman of the Board: Shawn Kettering
Bert: Jeffrey Shankle
Aunt Tillie: Tina Marie DeSimone
Harry Bailey: A.J. Whittenberger
Ma Bailey: Adrienne Athanas
Violet: Santina Maiolatesi
Sam Wainwright: Gerald Jordan
Mary Hatch: MaryKate Brouillet
Elsie: Lydia Gifford
Mrs. Sloan: Jane C. Boyle
Miss Jones: Heather Marie Beck
Mrs. Hatch: Susan Thornton
Zuzu Bailey: Gwyneth Porter

Director: Toby Orenstein
Assistants to the Director: Mark Minnick and Tina Marie DeSimone
Musical Direction: Ross Scott Rawlings
Choreography: Tina Marie DeSimone
Scenic Design: David A. Hopkins
Lighting Design: Lynn Joslin
Sound Design: Mark Smedley
Costume Design: Sarah King
Properties Design: Shane Lowry


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