American Blues kicks off the Christmas season with their 16th annual production of It's a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!. Featuring an amicable ensemble and simple but stunning staging, the holiday hit playing at Stage 773 is pure holiday magic.
Directed by Gwendolyn Whiteside (who also plays Mary Bailey), the talented cast of eight takes on every character in Frank Capra's classic tale. The characterizations are delightfully grand while never approaching caricature; the production is funny but always honest.
Aside from the story we all know and the impeccably decorated theatre at Stage 773, the production also features wonderful moments of audience participation and even retro commercials created specifically for American Blues' modern-day sponsors. You truly feel like you've stepped back into the 1940's.
Shawn Goudie does incredible live work as the Foley for the production, creating every sound effect on stage with various tools and instruments. One small complaint is that some of these effects were a bit too quiet, making it unclear if Goudie was participating in the scene or merely setting up for his next effect.
It's a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! is an approachable theatrical experience that truly wraps you up in a warm embrace. The ensemble seems genuinely happy to invite the audience in, and their cheer is infectious. Fans of Capra's classic film should love the production just as much as someone for whom the story is completely new. American Blues' production should be added to your list of seasonal traditions.
Review by Jason Berger
It's a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! continues at Stage 773 through January 7. More info here.
The Hawk Chicago is included in TheatreInChicago's Review Round-Up.