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It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! – Bigger, Brighter, Bolder

It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! – Bigger, Brighter, Bolder
Gwendolyn Whiteside,Zac Kenny

Gwendolyn Whiteside and Zac Kenny with cast

When it comes to popular Windy City holiday themed traditions, American Blues Theater’s It’s a Wonderful Life, has been going strong and selling out venues since 2002. This season, Frank Capra’s celebratory, time-honored classic has been given a posh upgrade, now being performed in a larger and more opulent space at the Stage 773. Director Gwendolyn Whiteside returns once again to transport her talented cast and audience back to a 1944 radio broadcast set, known here as the WABT Studios. With beautiful, period accurate costuming designed Christopher J. Neville and an impressively detailed set from Grant Sabin, the vintage light-bulbs adorning the Christmas trees and the new, lush red velvet curtains did not go unnoticed, over 35,000 patrons have made the journey to Bedford Falls, enjoying this interpretation of the holiday classic along the way. Leaning heavily on sentimentality, It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! is, simply put, a delicious annual Store Front theatrical treat.

Zach Kenny, John Mohrlein

Zach Kenny and John Mohrlein

From the moment you walk into the theater, you were immediately met by cast members singing Christmas carols, while announcer and pianist, Michael Mahler, tickled the ivories with gusto. The dashing Barbershop Quartet crooning “Winter Wonderland” as audience members found their respective seats was a nice touch as well. Throughout the show, real world soldiers were saluted as well as engagements and anniversaries announced too. Audience members actively clapped along while also participating in trivia games during the planned “commercial breaks.” Such a sense of levity is part of the novelty that has kept this particular spectacle going on for nearly two decades.
Dara Cameron,Michael Mahler

Dara Cameron and Michael Mahler

All of the time honored story elements were handsomely displayed. Entering the world of George Bailey (Zach Kenney) a small town banker, underwhelmed by his life, the story is voiced by a remarkable cast of eight actors playing the remaining townsfolk, including James Joseph as Uncle Billy in his 8th year in the part, Gwendolyn Whiteside and Camille Robinson rotating the part of Mary Bailey and John Mohrlein returning for his 16th season as angel Clarence and the diabolical Mr. Potter. The additional cast’s vocal talents ranged from the innocence of a small child (personal favorite Dara Cameron) to the seasoned warbles of the town drunk at the local watering hole. Set against sound effects created for the 9th season by the remarkable Foley talents of Shawn J. Goudie. It is hard to resist the undeniable charm of this affable group’s returning efforts.

John Mohrlein

John Mohrlein

While hearkening back to the “Golden Age of Radio”, I would be remiss to forget to mention the original commercial jingles produced here, highlighting local Windy City neighborhood businesses that included Northern Trust Bank, Great American Bagel and The Belmont Animal Hospital.  While the original score created by Austin Cook remains firmly intact, musical director Michael Mahler added his own unique, whimsical and charming flair to the proceedings. It is delightful to know the holiday theatrical landscape this season is blessed by so many top notch and varied selections. Check out It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! You will be all the merrier for the experience.

Zac Kenny, Michael Mahler

Zac Kenny, Michael Mahler

American Blues Theater It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! is now playing at Stage 773 through January 6, 2018

Michael Mahler

Michael Mahler

Out of Town

Stephen S. Best is currently a freelance writer for the Times Square Chronicles, covering the performing arts scene in the greater Chicagoland area. He has been a theater aficionado for years, attending his first live production, Annie, at the tender age of six. After graduating from Purdue University, Stephen honed his skills attending live theater, concerts and art installations in New York and Chicago. Stephen's keen eye and thorough appreciation for both theater patrons' time and entertainment dollar makes him a valuable asset and his recommendations key. Stephen currently lives in downtown Chicago.

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