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Iowa says 'happy holidays' to Cleveland with 'A Wonderful Life"

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The new musical "A Wonderful Life" premiered recently at the Cleveland Playhouse with a distinctly Iowa flavor. The production was made possible by a substantial transplant of artistic talent from the University of Iowa.

UI theatre arts department chair Alan MacVey, his colleague Bryon Winn and UI dance department faculty member Alan Sener collaborated on the musical theater piece. MacVey directed the production, which is the largest in the 75-year history of that major regional theater. Sener served as choreographer, and Winn was assistant lighting designer.

"A Wonderful Life," was adapted from the Frank Capra film by Sheldon Harnick, author of "Fiddler on the Roof," and Joe Raposo, composer of music for "Sesame Street" and many films. It opened at the Playhouse Nov. 28 and runs through Dec. 28. Artistic Director Peter Hackett reports that the production has been extremely successful and is likely to be the biggest money maker in the history of the Playhouse.

MacVey spent the month of November in Cleveland, returning to Iowa City every Monday (his rehearsal day off) to teach. Sener joined him for several intensive periods, and Winn was in residence for the final 10 days before the production opened.

MacVey explains, "It's fairly rare for university faculty members to work on a production at a major regional theater. For three members of the same faculty to work on this project --which is so important to the Cleveland Playhouse -- is a great treat. Alan (Sener) and I met several times in Iowa City to work out plans for the production, and as we flew back and forth to Cleveland each week we were able to discuss what we still needed to accomplish."

The Cleveland production has been part of a busy year professionally for MacVey, who was on leave from the UI last spring. In February he directed the world premiere of Russell Vandenbroucke's "Atomic Bombers" at North Light Theatre in Chicago, opening North Light's new theatre.

He then flew to San Francisco where he worked with UI Writers' Workshop and Playwrights Workshop alumna Darrah Cloud and Kim Sherman on the premier of "Heart Land," a musical set in Moscow, Iowa. It was produced by TheatreWorks, then presented again in workshop in New York City.

During the summer MacVey directed Samuel Beckett's "Endgame" at the Bread Loaf School of English in Vermont, where he has been artistic director of the Acting Ensemble, a professional company, for 12 years.

He then directed Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, R.I. He was also named associate director at Trinity Rep, one of the largest professional companies in the United States.

"'A Wonderful Life' is the last production I'll direct until next summer, when we plan a co-production of Brecht's 'Three Penny Opera' with the Trinity Company," MacVey says. "I'm looking forward to bringing all I've learned to my classes on acting and directing at the UI."

Sener was also on leave last spring and spent much of his time interviewing former colleagues of the choreographer Louis Falco for an upcoming book. A long-time member of Falco's dance company, Sener is now the artistic executor of the choreographer's estate. In that capacity he has traveled the world, teaching Falco works to dance companies.

Winn, in his third year on the UI Theatre Arts faculty, was lighting designer for Iowa Summer Rep and other local companies.

The Cleveland Playhouse, one of the country's oldest and largest regional theaters, plans to bring "A Wonderful Life" back for its Christmas season, 1998.

12/19/97