Tuesday August 22nd 2017

“It’s a Wonderful Life..Live at The Biograph”

Highly Recommended**** As we are in the “Holiday Season”, several productions of a similar type are taking place in many of our local theaters. For kids, we have tow “Cinderella’ as well as “The Other Cinderella”. We have several versions of “A Christmas carol” and another yuletide favorite, “It’s A Wonderful Life”, the radio broadcast presentation of Frank Carpra’s award winning move is on at least two stages, again. While there is a lot of talent doing both versions, over the years I have learned to admire the American Blues Theater version at The Biograph, so much I look forward to the opening each season. I must say that when I heard they were moving from the “Studio” upstairs at the Biograph, down to the mainstage theater, I was a bit concerned. The beauty of the “radio broadcast” type show is the intimacy that the audience feels with the cast as they prepare to go on air and they read some messages to other members. How can the intimacy of the 100 seat venue work the same in the larger arena? Well, you need not worry as I saw today. They have curtained off the rear section of the theater so that only around 11 or 12 rows are there for the viewers. This continues to keep the intimacy that has been a part of the production in the past and at the same time allow a few more patrons to see the show before it leaves again for another year. That is great!

To make matters even more on the happy season side- it is being announced that ABT’s “It’s A Wonderful Life” will take on a new look again for 2013- it will change it’s name to “It’s A Wonderful Life, Live In Chicago!. It will also be moved to it’s new home at The Greenhouse Theater Center, located just two blocks south of the current home at 2257 N. Lincoln Avenue. You might want to mark this down for that time- use the code word “Green” and you can save $10 per ticket for 2013. Now that you have your first Christmas present, let’s return to the story of what this production is all about>

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a very heartwarming American tale of a man who gave up many of his hopes and dreams in order to save his town and help the people of that community have healthier and happier lives. The movie of the same name, which was based on the short story “”The Greatest Gift” is not just about Christmas itself, but the spirit of mankind and how good can triumph over evil. Of greater importance, it talks  about who we are and how important even just one person can be to a great number of others. It is a classic about a man who at one point wishes he had never been born, and as he sees what might have been, if his wish had come true, he realizes that what he has, despite is turns and tosses , is in fact “A Wonderful Life”, worth fighting for. This is a true symbol for the season and by watching it as a radio broadcast, we get a whole new feeling about the times that it was first presented, from short story, to movie and now, in the intimacy of a local theater, we become a part of the history made with this story.

Directed by Marty Higginbottom with a cast of dynamic actors, this is 90 minutes of pure fun and pleasure with some very deep meaning and a great deal of newfound spirit and inspiration. The times are tough right now, just   as they were in Bedford Falls back in the 1940’s and watching the likes of these actors, we leave the theater, joining them in the lobby for some milk and cookies, with a new smile on our face and a warm feeling of new hope in our hearts. And what a cast it is:

Michael Mahler as the Announcer/Pianist ( who also takes on a few character voices, his incredible wife ( in reality), Dara Cameron as several characters and who also lends the beauty of her voice to some warm-up songs and commercials ( remember, this is a radio broadcast, so there have to be commercials), the adorable Gewndolyn Whiteside who takes on a number of roles including our Hero George Bailey’s Mother and wife,Mary. Uncle Billy among others is played by  James Joseph, the Guardian angel Clarence and  the evil Mr. Potter as well  many others are played by John  Mohrlein , who will astound you with his ability to change characters with the snap of a finger ( if you close your eyes, you will think that there are 30-40 people assembled on the stage, and yet, only seven and a Foley ( sound effects man- Shawn J. Goudie) are there.Ian Paul Custer  is another actor who takes on several roles. In fact, the only actor who only plays one role is Kevin R. Kelly as George Bailey. Being the main character in a classic story is not an easy task as watchers and listeners will tend to compare you tto James Stewart who made this role his own. Well, let me tell you- Mr. Kelly has done just that as well- not an impersonation of the character in the film, but instead over his years of doing this show, he has developed his won flavor to George and for that I am quite thankful. We get our own original show, Chicago style!

You might think that since it is a radio show, the design staff is not as important. If you did that, you would be in error. The technical portion of this production is just as important as any other audience viewed production and thanks to this crew, we are in business! Grant Sabin’s has once again done the set, which was modified for the new stage area. Samantha C. Jones ( Costumes), Marty Higginbottom ( sound as well as direction),Bobby Richards ( projections- we do some holiday sing-alongs- follow the bouncing snowball), Sarah E. Ross ( props), and Katy Peterson and Viccellio and Brian Claggetti ( lighting)


This years edition of “It’s A Wonderful Life” will continue at The Biograph Theater ( Victory Gardens) located at 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue through December 30th with performances as follows:

Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m.,Saturdays at 5 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets range from $19-$49 and can be purchased at the box office, by phone at 773-871-3000 or online at www.americanbluestheater.com

There is an added performance on Wednesday,December 26th at 8 p.m.

To see more, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to review round-up and click on “It’s a Wonderful Life”


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