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