Thursday October 19th 2017

“It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago”

wonderful-life-8770Highly Recommended ***** The venue may change! Cast changes have taken place! BUT, one thing is for certain, the annual, or should we say, traditional, production from American Blues Theater of “It’s A Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!” based on the film by Frank Capra, is still one that should be on your MUST see list. Over the years, many other theater companies have produced a version of this classic, but never with the same spirit and love that ABT has brought to Chicago stages for 15 years. If you know people who have seen other versions of this wonderful story, can I suggest you tell them that they really need to see this version so they can experience the magic that ABT brings to its stage.

I would hope that everyone is familiar with the Capra film starring James Stewart that tells the story of how each of our lives touches so many others, and what would happen if that particular person had not existed. “It’s A Wonderful Life” is such a story. A small town man who has dreams and aspirations to leave that town (Bedford Falls) gets caught up in life and the circumstances that can alter the chosen path, and thus changes direction. As the years go by and things take place, he feels that what has happened to him was nothing short of circumstances that have destroyed his life. But as we learn, from this story, when he decides to end his life to make that of his family better, he learns that had he never existed, everything in his town would have been different, very different.

The beauty of this production, and what makes it so very special , is that it is performed as if we are in a radio studio and that the play is being performed LIVE on the radio at this moment. The stage is set more like a meeting room with a piano and several other instruments close at hand for the Announcer (the very talented Michael Mahler, who is also the music maker playing a myriad of instruments) to utilize. There are many local advertisements for the local sponsors. The jingles for the most part are handled by Mahler and Dara Cameron, who also is one of the featured players. These two make beautiful music together.wl1

The cast of performers is smallish in numbers, but extremely huge in ability. With the exception of two of the cast members, Brandon Dahlquist (new to this year’s cast as our main character George Bailey) and  Shawn J. Goudie (the Foley) the others play many different roles. Since they never change costumes, and we the audience always see them, it is their vocal tones, inflections and volumes that help us keep tabs on who they are. Amazingly, none of them ever slip into the wrong character. I truly mean amazing! Dara Cameron, Ian Paul Custer, James Joseph, Camille Robinson and John Mohrlein are the able cast of players. Each time I see this production, I respect them even more.

Just for the record, getting back to Foley, which many people are not aware of, this is the sound effects man in the radio station. We, the audience, get to watch him make each of the sounds that we would have only heard on the radio. A stone breaking glass, a siren, doors slamming, cars starting and driving, and a host of other great sounds. Goudie is as “good as it gets”! This is 1944 and we are at radio station WABT on Lincoln Avenue ( the Greenhouse Theater Center). As the audience enters the theater, they are greeted by cast members and asked to fill out little message cards so during breaks, messages can be sent out over the world. Remember, there is a war still going on. The cast members meet and greet and prepare the audience ofr a sing-along to get into the Christmas season. There are two major breaks during the show with adorable commercials (very local), and while it is a 90 minute show with no intermission, it never feels too long at all.

Directed by Gwendolyn Whiteside, who has great knowledge of this work having been a cast member for many years, each piece is sheer perfection. Austin Cook’s score along with Mahler’s amazing jingles, make the musical parts feel just wl5right. The set design (Grant Sabin), lights (Katy Peterson), props (Elyse Dolan) , costumes (Christopher J. Neville) and production staff (Sara E. Ross, Paul Deziel and Kathryn Lochert) are the finishing touch to a perfect entertainment experience, for young and old.

When the show comes to the happy ending and we wipe away the tears of happiness created by this charming special cast, we are once again in a meet and greet with our cast. Now, they are serving cookies and milk as we leave the theater. Nice touch and very warm. Something new this year was the game  called “name that song” where Mahler plays some notes on one of many instruments he has on hand and audience members try to answer. If they are correct, they get a prize. This is a fun experience for the entire family and one that you should share with those you love.

“It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!” will continue at The Greenhouse Theater Center located at 2257 N. Lincoln Avenue through December 31st with performances as follows:

wl2Thursdays  7:30 p.m.

Fridays  7:30 p.m.

Saturdays  4:30 and  7:30 p.m.

Sundays  2:30 p.m.

additional performances 12/12 and 12/21 at 7:30 p.m.

12/23 and 12/26  4:30 p.m. and  7:30 p.m.

NO performances on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day

December 17th, special visitor- Santa with children under 12 getting a special keepsake and on December 26th, they will offer the same in celebration of Hanukkah.

Tickets range from $19- $49 and can be purchased by calling 1-773-404-7336 or online at www.AmericanBluesTheater.com

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!”

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