Highly Recommended ***** Tradition! This is of course, the famous opening number in “Fiddler on The Roof”, but it is an important word in the world of theater, in particular , as we head into the holiday season. Thanksgiving ( and this year , Channukah) will be here in just a matter if days, which means that Christmas is “just around the corner”. This being the case, many shows with the Holiday flavor will stage their “come-backs” or their annual events. One of these is the very lovely “Its A Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago” which is in fact a radio broadcast of the Frank Capra film that families join together to watch on Christmas Eve or Christmas day every year. It is “A happening”! It is an event for the entire family! And as we have seen over the last 12 years, as done by American Blues Theater Company, a Chicago Tradition for the holidays.
Directed by Marty Higginbotham, the show which is based on the movie, which is based on a short story “The Greatest Gift”, while in a new venue, is stronger than ever. I for one, noticed that the change to the first floor theater at The Greenhouse Theater Center on Lincoln Avenue is even more perfect for a live radio presentation. Yes, the players are live actors and we, the audience , get the feeling that we are in a studio for a live presentation to the Greater Chicago Area , live on the radio, of this enchanting story about a man who has many obstacles placed before him in his life and through it all finds that family, friends and love ar in fact the greatest gifts of all. yes, possessions and wealth are wonderful, but it is the friendship and the love that you build into your life that makes the difference in the end.
Many of us are very familiar with the film version of this story which is on every holiday season. In this 90 minute version, that takes place on Lincoln avenue. we are told that the hero of the story. George Bailey ( once again played with just the right touch by Kevin R. Kelly) is about to kill himself. He is sent an angel, Clarence ( divinely played by John Mohrlein, who also plays a great many other roles) whose task it to save him and change his future. Yes, that is what this is all about. George wishes he had never been born onto this Earth and that being said, when his wish appears to be granted, he finds that a great number of other people’s lives would be affected by this. Yes, we are all, in a way, dependent on others that our paths cross during a lifetime. And as we affect their lives, so do they affect ours.
This is a beautiful story, a true Holiday Tradition for families that once again , in a radio show setting is a wonderful experience for “children of all ages”. The new set ( Grant Sabin) is a better fit in this new theater and has the homey touch that was lacking in all the previous theaters. Samantha C. Jones has once again done costumes that fit the times ( 1944) and give us the feeling that we have indeed gone back in time. The lighting( Katy Peterson Viccellio), the props ( Sarah E. Ross) and the musical underscore design ( Austin Cook) all ad to the magic of what we see on the stage. The onstage announcer and man at the keyboards is Chicago favorite Michael Mahler ( who has also written some clever jingles and radio commercials for the “local” sponsors). There are sing-alongs prior to the show ( the studio warm-ups) conducted by Mahler and his sister-in-law Denice who has taken over the many roles previously played by his wife, Dara ( who is in several other productions in town), Nothing like keeping it in the family- but even better when the family is one filled with as much talent as this one- WOW!.
The other cast members who take on many roles are the always reliable James Joseph, Ian Paul Custer and the incredible and beautiful Gwendolyn Whiteside, who plays Mary bailey as well as Mrs bailey ( imagine playing a man’s wife and mother in the same play!). She brings a certain “something” to these roles and is always out in the audience before the start handing out goodies for audience members to fill out and after the show, serving the annual cookies and milk treats.Lest, I forget, in radio, the sound effects are manufactured and created by what is called a “Foley” and returning for his fifth year is Shawn J. Goudie, who truly makes every sound seem real. The sing-a-longs are projected on a screen with great projection design by Bobby Richards. This is a special treat for the family an done that every family should make part of their holiday tradition.
“It’s A Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago” will continue at WABT Studio located at The Greenhouse Theater Center 2257 N. Lincoln Avenue through December 29th with performances as follows:
Thursdays,Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.
Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
Holiday schedule includes: 11/30 at 4:30 p.m.
12/8 and 12/15 at 5:30 p.m.
12/21 at 4:30 p.m.
12/22 at 5:30 p.m.
There are some free parking spaces available at 2316 N. Lincoln Ave (former parking lot for Children’s memorial Hospital)
Sunday,December 1st at 2:30 celebrate Hanukkah, with a special keepsake for the 12 and under audience.
Sunday,December 22nd, following the 2:30 performance, Santa will make his way to greet and meet the kids and distribute something special to the kids ( 12 years and under)
Tickets for this Chicago Holiday Classic range from $19-$49 and are available at tehj box office, by calling 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”