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BWW Review: IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, LIVE IN CHICAGO! at American Blues Theater

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American Blue Theater's It's a Wonderful, Live In Chicago! is back in person and it is a true holiday gem.

BWW Review: IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, LIVE IN CHICAGO! at American Blues Theater

It's that time of year when we celebrate our favorite cherished holiday traditions. For many, that includes watching a classic Frank Capra film that tells the story of Bedford Falls' own George Bailey. It's filled with many iconic Hollywood moments that are forever etched in our hearts and minds. Perhaps it's this tried-and-true story that makes it the perfect fit as a staged radio play. American Blue Theater's It's a Wonderful, Live In Chicago! is back in person and it is a true holiday gem.

Audience members are propelled back into a 1940's era radio studio, as the talented ensemble gets warmed and lets them know how the evening will go. The cast's energy is infectious and we soon feel like a part of the show. After two decades of staging this charming piece, there is a familiarity to the production, but also a freshness that feels like you're part of the first ever performance.

Each member of this cast has a chance to shine. As George Bailey, Brandon Dahlquist is fantastic. He skillfully plays every up and down of Bailey's story and draws us in each time he steps to the microphone. Audrey Billings as Mary Bailey is the perfect counterpart who shows both toughness and vulnerability. Alternating marvelously between Clarence (the angel) and Mr. Potter, Joe Dempsey expertly portrays these characters with opposing intentions. Serving as the announcer and pianist (one of many instruments he plays), Michael Mahler keeps things moving with his wit and charm.

BWW Review: IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, LIVE IN CHICAGO! at American Blues Theater

Director Gwendolyn Whiteside's staging is a terrific homage to the radio play format and there isn't a moment that's overplayed nor missed. Grant Sabin's scenic design with set decoration and properties by Elyse Dolan, transport us back in time and resonate with a nostalgic flow through the entire theatre. Christopher J. Neville exquisitely costumes each performer, and the entire experience is heightened by Rick Sims' sound design.

There is definitely an appeal to this version of this well-known story. Perhaps it's the focus on the actors as the morph into different characters. Perhaps it's the comfort of knowing how it all plays out. Or perhaps it's just good storytelling done by extremely capable storytellers. Whichever it is, It's a Wonderful, Live In Chicago! should be added to your holiday traditions. It will remind you of what's really important and leave you listening for ringing bells.

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American Blues Theater's It's a Wonderful, Live In Chicago! runs through December 31, 2021 at Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue. For tickets, visit americanbluestheater.com.


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