Somehow this just feels right: Paul McCartney has been working on the music for a stage version of It’s A Wonderful Life, Frank Capra‘s 1946 classic movie starring James Stewart and Donna Reed. The story, of course, is about eternal optimist George Bailey (James), who gradually loses his faith and attempts suicide, but instead is given the opportunity to see what the world would have been like without him — and it’s a much worse place. In many ways, it’s tailor made for Sir Paul.
The musician is teaming up with writer Lee Hall — who penned the screenplays for Billy Elliot and Rocketman — and producer Bill Kenwright. Said Paul in a statement, “Writing a musical is not something that had ever really appealed to me. But Bill and I met up with Lee Hall and had a chat and I found myself thinking this could be interesting and fun. It’s A Wonderful Life is a universal story we can all relate to.”
Back in 2016, the stage rights were offered to Bill, who asked Paul if he would be interested. In the statement, Bill comments, “Out of the blue I got an email from Paul asking my thoughts on his first stab at an opening song. He wasn’t sure, but wanted to know what Lee and I thought of it. I played the demo. Lee and I were unanimous: Our hero was a musical theater writer. Working with Paul on It’s a Wonderful Life is a dream realized. To be honest, I was hooked on first hearing him say ‘one/two/three/four’ on the demo of the opening number. But since then it’s been an extraordinary journey. On every song I experience Paul’s unique gift of melody and composition. It’s musical theater, but it’s always McCartney. Paul Lee and I use the word ‘cherish’ when we refer to our source material and that’s what we intend to do. Cherish Frank Capra’s creation.”
Adds Lee, “It’s A Wonderful Life is my favorite film. It has absolutely everything: comedy, pathos and a rare humanity which has touched generation after generation. Yet it just couldn’t be more relevant. To give it a life on the stage is an immense privilege in itself, but to do so with Paul McCartney is off the scale. Paul’s wit, emotional honesty and melodic brilliance brings a whole new depth and breadth to the classic tale. I feel as if an angel must be looking after me.”
In our exclusive interview with film historian Jeanine Basinger, author of The It’s A Wonderful Life Book, she shared her feelings regarding why the film has been handed down from one generation to another. For anyone who knows Paul’s sentiments about life, it actually does sound like the perfect mix of story and artist. “There are certain things that have a kind of inexplicable truth in them, and the ability to connect somewhere to people at a very human level,” opines Jeanine. “And certain things don’t change. We still look for someone to love and share our lives. We still deal with our fathers and mothers. We still have to worry about money problems. We still have dreams of riches and fame and leaving Bedford Falls and going out into the world. These things get different names, and they up the level of sophistication, possibilities get bigger or smaller, but there’s certain basics that don’t change. And so, in the end, after all, the basics of this film are always in place, no matter how much everything else changes.”
“In the end,” Jeanine continues, “when George is made to realize that his life meant something very important to a great many people, and that without him they would not have had the joy or the success or the security in life, it’s brought home to him. He is valuable to people, that his life has meant something. This is something that doesn’t go away. It might become unfashionable. It might get labeled sentiment, whatever, but it doesn’t actually go away, and this film has that, and because it comes wrapped in a lot of great humor, with some really great people playing in every single role, it connects.”
The It’s A Wonderful Life musical is scheduled to open on London’s West End in late 2020 and will be followed by a Broadway run.