CHICAGO – American Blues Theater marks its return to live, in-person theater with its 20th Annual Production of It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! from Frank Capra’s film and directed by Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside with musical direction by Ensemble Member Michael Mahler. It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! will run November 26 – December 31, 2021 at Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N Lincoln Avenue. Single tickets go on sale October 26 and are available at (773) 871-3000 and online at www.americanbluestheater.
com. The press opening is Friday, December 3 at 7:30pm.
George Bailey, the Everyman from small town Bedford Falls whose dreams of escape and adventure were stopped by family obligation and civic duty, has fallen onto desperate times. Only a miracle can save him from despair. Filled with original music and classic holiday carols, this critically acclaimed, warm “holiday favorite makes the bell ring every time.” (Chicago Tribune) For 20 years, American Blues has treated audiences to a live retelling of the Frank Capra classic in a 1940s radio broadcast tradition, making It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! the second longest-running holiday play in Chicago!
Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside comments, “We have so many milestones to celebrate with this year’s production of It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! This year marks American Blues’ 20th annual production of this holiday favorite, as well as John Mohrlein’s 20th turn as “Clarence” and “Mr. Potter.” It feels so fitting that the first show we welcome audiences back to experience is one that means so much to the entire American Blues Theater family. We can’t wait to see everyone!”
The cast of It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! includes Audrey Billings* (Mary Bailey), Manny Buckley* (Joseph), Dara Cameron* (Violet), Yuchi Chiu (Harry), Brandon Dalquist (George Bailey), Shawn J. Goudie* (Foley), Michael Mahler* (Announcer / Pianist), and John Mohrlein* (Clarence/Mr. Potter), Joe Dempsey* (U/S Clarence/Mr. Potter), and Gwendolyn Whiteside* (Mary Bailey, 12/29 & 12/31).
The creative team includes Grant Sabin* (Scenic Designer), Christopher J. Neville* (Costume Designer), Katy Peterson Viccellio (Lighting Designer), Rick Sims* (Sound Designer), Elyse Dolan* (Set Dressing / Props Designer), and Shandee Vaughan* (production & stage manager).
*Denotes Ensemble member or Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater
About the Artists
GWENDOLYN WHITESIDE she/her (Artistic Director/Director) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater and has served as Artistic Director since 2010. In her tenure, she created the nationally-recognized Blue Ink Playwriting Award and new work development program, implemented community service into the company’s mission, and adapted the arts education program The Lincoln Project for Chicago Public Schools serving nearly 4,000 students annually during a traditional school year. She led American Blues through its reorganization in 2009, building the operational budget from zero to $1 million. She secured the company’s first-ever operating reserve and endowment. Whiteside served on numerous panels for the National Endowment for the Arts and sat on the Board of Directors for Network of Ensemble Theaters and League of Chicago Theatres. She’s a graduate of Northwestern University (BS), The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (MFA), and a Kellogg Executive Scholar in Nonprofit management (Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University). As a producer, she’s received 14 Joseph Jefferson nominations or awards. As an actress, she’s received 5 Joseph Jefferson Awards, Citations, and nominations; 2 After Dark Awards; and 1 Broadway World Chicago Award.
AUDREY BILLINGS she/her (Mary Bailey) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. She’s thrilled to reprise her role as Mary Bailey (and others) in It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! (And in person – Hooray!) Previous credits include: Christmas Eve in the long-running production of Avenue Q at the Mercury Theater, Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar, Antonia in Man of la Mancha, and Hodel in Fiddler on the Roof. She has worked at the Paramount Theatre, Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire, Drury Lane Oakbrook, Theatre at the Center, Lookingglass Theatre Company and is a proud member of Actor’s Equity.
MANNY BUCKLEY he/him (Joseph) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater. He is a Chicago-based director, actor, playwright and teaching artist. Blues credits include It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!, Six Corners, Looking Over the President’s Shoulder (Jeff Award Nomination-Best Solo Performance), and Dutchman/TRANSit (Black Theatre Alliance Award Nomination). Manny toured nationally as “Satchel Paige” in the original production of The Satchel Paige Story, and appeared in The Father (Helen Hayes Award Nomination) at Studio Theatre in Washington, D.C. He originated the role of “Carson” in Hit the Wall, which sold out extensions in Steppenwolf’s Garage Rep. Select Chicago credits include The Brothers Size, 1984, and Of Mice and Men (Steppenwolf); Dorian (
House Theater); and Love’s Labor’s Lost (Chicago Shakespeare Theatre). Mr. Buckley is the recipient of a Black Theatre Alliance, and Black Excellence Award. He most recently directed Kingdom, an audio drama, with Broken Nose Theatre.
DARA CAMERON she/her (Violet) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater and is grateful to be performing back onstage at her artistic home. Favorite credits include The Spitfire Grill (Jeff nomination) and Little Shop of Horrors (
American Blues Theater); Old Jews Telling Jokes (Royal George and Off-Broadway); The Secret of My Success (Paramount Theatre); Elf, Hero (Jeff nomination), South Pacific, October Sky, Sister Act, City of Angels, Cinderella, The Wizard of Oz, Fiddler on the Roof (Marriott Theatre); Addam s Family (Mercury Theater); Dirt y Rotten Scoundrels (Theatre at the Center), and Sunset Boulevard, Seussical, and Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story (Drury Lane Theatre). She is a graduate of Northwestern University and a member of Actors’ Equity. She is married to actor Michael Mahler, and when they aren’t singing in Bedford Falls together, they are busy chasing after their stinker of a toddler, Ezra!
YUCHI CHIU he/him (Harry) is a Chicago-based actor, teacher, singer/songwriter, and musician. Born and raised in Los Angeles, he moved to Chicago to study at Northwestern University and subsequently taught high school special education for five years. Yuchi then transitioned into acting by enrolling in classes at Acting Studio Chicago as well as completing the ACADEMY program at Black Box Studio. Now, Yuchi proudly serves as an instructor at Black Box. Outside of acting, he can be found bartending, exercising, reading/writing, and trying to get his dog to actually return balls while playing fetch. Credits include Baked! The Musical (Underscore Theatre); How Do We Navigate Space (Strawdog Theatre); BJ’s Mobile Gift Shop (Sundance Film Festival 2021); The Miscellany (The Passage Theatre). Yuchi is represented by DDO Artists Agency and is excited to join the It’s a Wonderful Life family!
BRANDON DAHLQUIST he/him (George Bailey) is happy to return to Bedford Falls for his 5th season. Broadway: Bronx Bombers. Regional: As You Like It (Guthrie Theater); The Glass Menagerie (Milwaukee Repertory); A Little Night Music, 1776 (American Conservatory Theatre); Shakespeare in Love, Rhinoceros, 1776 (Asolo Repertory); 12 Angry Men (Maltz Jupiter Theater); Dogfight, City of Angels (San Francisco Playhouse); Sunday…George, Mur
der on the Nile, Lombardi (Peninsula Players). Chicago: Secret of My Success (Paramount Theatre), Miracle the Musical (Royal George Theater), A Little Night Music, Arcadia, Oh Coward! (Writers Theatre); Cabaret, Meet Me in St. Louis, Sugar (Drury Lane Oakbrook); Assassins, Sunday… George, Best Musical! (Porchlight Music Theater). On Camera: Difficult People (Hulu), Chicago P.D (NBC), The Chi (Showtime). A popular photographer, Dahlquist is on social @ IG: @thats_on_brandon & @BrandonDahlquistPhotography. For Mutti & Mom.
SHAWN J. GOUDIE he/him (Foley) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. He is excited to be returning for his thirteenth season of It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago, because where else are you told it is ok to smash plates and slam doors. Shawn is also a founding member of The Dolphins of Damnation sketch comedy group and a Stormtrooper in the 501st Legion. He would like to thank his amazing wife, their endlessly curious children, and his loving parents.
MICHAEL MAHLER he/him (Announcer/Pianist) is a proud Ensemble Member of American Blues, most recently seen as the Announcer/Pianist/Music Director in Blues’ live streaming production of It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! Past Blues productions: Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story (Jeff Award – Best Music Direction), Little Shop of Horrors, Hank Williams: Lost Highway, and Side Man. Other recent roles include The Baker in Into the Woods (Writers); Jim Hardy in Holiday Inn, and Jack Singer in Honeymoon in Vegas (Marriott Theatre). Michael co-wrote the songs for the Netflix movie My Little Pony: A New Generation and contributed additional lyrics to Cameron Mackintosh’s most recent Broadway production of Miss Saigon. Other works as a composer/lyricist include The Secret of My Success, Miracle (Jeff Award – Best New Work), Diary of a Wimpy Kid, October Sky, The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes (Jeff Award – Best New Work), and Hero (Jeff Award – Best New Work). Michael is married to fellow Ensemble Member Dara Cameron and proud father to their son Ezra.
JOHN MOHRLEIN he/him (Clarence/Mr. Potter) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater. 20 years as “Clarence/Mr. Potter,” and he loves getting to revisit and reinvent these characters year after year. At American Blues, he’s appeared in Half of Plenty, It’s a Wonderful Life, A View from the Bridge, Strictly Dishonorable, American Dead, The Hairy Ape, A Lie of the Mind, Endgame, American Buffalo, The Skin of Our Teeth, The Threepenny Opera, A Stone Carver (Jeff nomination for Best Actor, After Dark Award for Outstanding Performance); and directed Catch-22. Other credits: The Glass House at the Art Institute of Chicago; nine productions at Goodman Theatre; and Cripple of Inishmaan, Heart of a Dog, and Murder of Cardinal Tosca at Northlight Theatre. His extensive television and film work includes Golden Boy, Good Night Sweet Wife, Dillinger, Killing Floor, Early Edition, Crime Story (recurring role), Untouchables, Devil’s Dominoes, Stranger Than Fiction, No Place to be Somebody, Hellcab, Hero, and Cold Justice. Now he’s developing Star Crossed Lovers, Pope Frank in Venice, and Glass House, while continuing to install his art works.
JOE DEMPSEY he/him (U/S Clarence/Mr. Potter) is a proud Affiliate of American Blues Theater and has appeared for in Scapin and Pledge of Allegiance. His last show was The Steadfast Tin Soldier at Lookingglass before the world ended. He has worked at Goodman, Steppenwolf, Northlight, Court, Chicago Shakespeare, Drury Lane Oak Brook, and Paramount among many other Chicago theatres as well as Milwaukee Rep, St Louis Rep, Centerstage (Baltimore), and City Theatre (Pittsburgh). TV work includes Somebody Somewhere, Chicago Fire, ER, and Early Edition and film work includes several indies you’ve never seen.
About American Blues
Winner of the American Theatre Wing’s prestigious National Theatre Company Award, American Blues Theater is a premier arts organization with an intimate environment that patrons, artists, and all Chicagoans call home. American Blues Theater explores the American identity through the plays it produces and communities it serves.
The diverse and multi-generational artists have established the second-oldest professional Equity Ensemble theater in Chicago. As of 2021, the theater and artists received 221 Joseph Jefferson Awards and nominations that celebrate excellence in Chicago theater and 40 Black Theatre Alliance Awards. The artists are honored with Pulitzer Prize nominations, Academy Awards, Golden Globe Awards, Emmy Awards and numerous other accolades.