Highly Recommended ***** As Turkey day nears and the retail stores begin their countdown to the Holidays, Chicago theater audiences can count on American Blues Theater Company bringing back their often imitated, never duplicated, “It’s A Wonderful Life” as a live radio broadcast done in Chicago. Since 2002, our audiences have laughed and cried as this amazing movie comes off the screen into the Greenhouse Theater Center, which has been transformed into a radio station, WBAT, in Chicago, during the 1940’s. The stage is a working radio set with a Foley( sound man played by Shawn J. Goudie) right on the stage. There is a screen on the wall so that the audience can join in some great sin-along Christmas sons to get into the mood and Mike Mahler does the emcee and music making along with several cast members. The opening night audience was right into the spirit from the “git-go” with the visitors from Misericordia singing along on every single Carol. They not only took part in that, they loved watching the story unfold.
This is the same story in the award winning film by Frank Capra, but instead of being in Bedford Falls, we are in a studio on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. Many of the actors in this sterling, heart warming production have been around since its inception in 2002, but over the years, new ones have joined with seamless love and admiration for the story and the characters which they play. This is a Radio show, live, so many of the actors play several roles. The only one who doesn’t is Kevin Kelly who plays our hero George Bailey. If you do not know the story, here is a brief synopsis. Based on the original book “The Greatest Gift” by Philip Van Doren Stern, “It’s a Wonderful Life” tells the story of a man who despite wanting to travel is forced to take over a savings and loan in his town so that the people of the town can borrow money to live in their own home instead of living in slums. Despite his arch rival Mr. Potter (once again, an amazing performance by John Mohrlein) who owns the rest of the town, he succeeds. There is a point where despite a slight problem, he feels that he should give up and comes close to ending it all. That is when a budding angel, Clarence (another spot on performance by Mohrlein) enters the picture and shows him what would have taken place in Bedford Falls if he had never been born. That is when George realizes that what he has had has indeed been a “Wonderful Life” and that he should be grateful for what he has instead of wishing for something else.
This is 90 minutes ( no intermission) of pure holiday magic directed by Marty Higginbotham with a cast (rumor has it that more changes will come next year, so I suggest you make sure to fit this Holiday fare into your Holiday plans as they are terrific) that is pure magic: Dara Cameron, Ian Paul Custer, James Joseph, Gwendolyn Whiteside, Mohrlein, Goudie and Mahler. Eight players playing a town full of characters on a set by Grant Sabin, with lighting by Katy Peterson and period costumes by Samantha C. Jones. The underscore music is composed by the legendary Austin Cook and the commercials and jingles for the local ads by Michael Mahler.
It is not often that we can sit and see something as heart warming as this story as retold by a cast that makes you feel that you are indeed the proverbial “fly on the wall” looking in on an actual radio broadcast, but of greater importance learning a valuable lesson about life during the season of giving. Let’s face it, what better gift is there that seeing live theater of this quality and after the show having milk and cookies with the cast. Wow!
Thursdays and Fridays at 7:0 p.m.
Saturdays at 4:30 and 7:30 p.m.
Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
On November 30th, December 14th and December 21st there will also be a Sunday performance at 5:30
SPECIAL NOTE: on the 21st, at both performances, it is rumored that a special visitor will appear with the cast. A Heavy man in a Red Suit will make your Holiday treat, an even greater treat. Santa will do sing-alongs with the cast and based on what I hear, you are in for a special memory for years to come. On the 20th, ABT will celebrate Hanukkah with gifts for children `1 and under.
To order your tickets for either Santa performance or any of the others, call the box office at 773-404-7336 or visit 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!”