Theatre ReviewsTom Williams

It’s A Wonderful Life: Live at the Biograph

Based on the Frank Capra filmIAWLlogo12e-500

Directed by Marty Higginbotham

produced by American Blues Theater

At the Biograph Theater

Sweet live radio production captures the humanity of George Bailey

The American Blues Theater kicks off its 2009-2010 season with a fresh remounting of  their 2004 radio play adaptation of Frank Capra’s classic holiday film–It’s a Wonderful life. We are taken back to a radio studio in 1944 to witness a radio play performed live complete with a Christmas sing-along audience warm-up  and commercial breaks. Under Marty Higginbotham’s energetic direction, the live radio format is pleasing experience as we see and hear the nine member cast deftly create multiple voices and personae to recreate the classic holiday story.

ABTs IAWL 2009 6. Photo The Stage Channel

This heartwarming story works quite well on stage for several reasons: the cast of nine (Ashley Bishop, Andrew Carter, Austin Cook, Shawn J. Goudie, Gary Houston, Kevin Kelly, Ed Kross, John Mohrlein and Gwendolyn Whiteside) were dedicated to the production. The inclusion of an announcer audience warm-up led by Ed Kross and Ashley Bishop quickly got the audience involved. The cute commercial jingles and the clever video projections (by Bobby Richards) added depth to the show. Shawn Goudie’s spot-on Foley Art (sound effects) were interesting to hear (and see).

ABTs IAWL 2009 2. Photo The Stage Channel

ABTs IAWL 2009 5. Photo The Stage Channel

The cast effectively created the spirit of Capra’s  story of a good man’s life. John Mohrlein’s Clarence and Mr. Potter along with Gary Huston’s Uncle Billy were most effective. But the production hinges on the work of Kevin Kelly playing George Bailey. Kelly’s performance was terrific as he captured George’s personality and basic goodness together with George’s temper, his devotion to the community and his sacrificing nature. Kelly reaches deep emotional truths seldom seen in those playing George Bailey.  Add the fine work from Ashley Bishop, Andrew Carter and Gwendolyn Whiteside and American Blues Theater’s production of It’s A wonderful Life is first class holiday fare.  I’d add this show to your Christmas list–it is a heartwarming ode to the spirit of humanity. We need more George Baileys in the world.


Tom Williams

At the Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL, call 773-628-3526,, tickets $32 – $40, Thursdays & Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 5 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2;30 pm, running time is 90 minutes without intermission, through December 27, 2009

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