Paul McCartney and Childhood Friend to Bring Musical Version of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ to the Stage

Paul McCartney at Dodger Stadium - Photo by Donna Balancia


Paul McCartney is working on a musical stage adaptation Frank Capra’s mid-20th century holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

McCartney has partnered with Bill Kenwright who will produce the show. Kenwright a respected theatre and film producer, approached Macca three years ago after landing the rights to the beloved film.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is based on Philip Van Doren Stern’s “The Greatest Gift.” The film starred Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed and was directed and produced by Frank Capra and released in 1946.

“Like many of these things, this all started with an email,” McCartney said.  Bill had asked if it was something I might be up for. 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.”

There have been many adaptations of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” including three radio productions, and stage productions written by Sheldon Harnick and Joe Raposo in the 1980s, and then “It’s a Wonderful Life — The Musical,” written by Bruce Greer and Keith Ferguson in the 1990s.

As heartwarming and wonderful as the film is still today, and despite its five Academy Award nominations — including a Best Picture nod — it was largely snubbed going home with a technical award. “The Best Years of Our Lives,” starring Stewart’s best pal Henry Fonda, was the big winner that year.

McCartney and Kenwright have been friends since childhood. They were born and raised in Liverpool, and attended Liverpool Institute High School, now known as LIPA, the performing arts academy founded by McCartney.  

McCartney has been writing the music and has been working on lyrics with Tony Award-winning English screenwriter and playwright Lee Hall.

“Working with Paul on ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is a dream realized,” Kenwright said. “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 theatre – 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,” Kenwright said.

“It’s A Wonderful Life is my favourite film,” Hall said. “It has absolutely everything: Comedy, pathos and a rare humanity which has touched generation after generation. Yet it just couldn’t be more relevant.”

McCartney dug into the story and created emotive music to represent the enlightening journey of protagonist George Bailey.  Unaware of all the lives he has touched and how different his community would be had he never been born; George is close to suicide. However, he is saved by the intervention of a guardian angel – and, of course, as in all feel-good, but resonant movies, George realizes the true value of his life.  

Paul McCartney returns to his old school:

Kenwright said he previously reached out to Frank Capra to see if he could get the rights to turn the film into a musical. He said he received a lovely handwritten letter by reply that declined the deal.  Many decades later he was offered the rights when he was in the middle of another project with Paramount. Despite Kenwright’s success, all the years later he was elated by the news and asked McCartney to be involved.

Having just completed the US leg of his current Freshen Up world tour in front of a sell-out audience at Los Angeles Dodger Stadium last weekend, Paul is still in the final stages of completing songs for his entry into musical theatre. “It’s a Wonderful Life” is set to launch in late 2020.