CHICAGO – American Blues Theater continues its 2019-2020 Season with its 18th 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! runs November 14, 2019 – January 4, 2020 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. in Chicago. The official press opening is November 17, 2019 at 2:30 p.m.
As the second longest-running holiday play in Chicago, the American Blues Ensemble has treated Chicago audiences to a live 1940s radio broadcast of holiday favorite It’s a Wonderful Life for 18 years. The incredible cast recreates the entire town of Bedford Falls with Foley sound effects, an original score and holiday carols. The Bedford Falls “residents” extend their hospitality after every performance when audiences are treated to milk and cookies served by the cast.
“We’re excited to return to this classic holiday story during Season 34 “Then & Now,” notes Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside. “Though set in 1944, we see parallel themes in American society today. From economic hardships, discussions of national identity, to basic acts of compassion exhibited towards others, we believe our production will provide needed relief to all.”
The cast of It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! includes Brandon Dahlquist (George Bailey), Gwendolyn Whiteside* (Mary Bailey), Dara Cameron* (Violet), Ian Paul Custer* (Harry), Shawn J. Goudie* (Foley), James Joseph* (Uncle Billy), Michael Mahler* (Announcer / Pianist), and John Mohrlein* (Clarence / Mr. Potter).
The creative team includes Grant Sabin* (Scenic Designer), Katy Peterson Viccellio (Lighting Designer), Christopher J. Neville* (Costume Designer), Keegan Bradac (Sound Designer), Elyse Dolan* (Set Dressing / Props Designer), Paul Deziel* (Projection Associate), Shandee Vaughan* (production & stage managers).
*Denotes Ensemble and Artistic Affiliates of American Blues Theater
It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! has received Joseph Jefferson Award nominations for Best Midsize Production and Best Ensemble.
About the Artists
GWENDOLYN WHITESIDE (Director; Mary Bailey) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater and has served as Artistic Director since 2010. She created the nationally-recognized annual Blue Ink Playwriting Award, Blueprint Development for new work, 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. Whiteside served 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 (cum laude), The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (MFA), and a Kellogg Executive Scholar in Nonprofit management (Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University). She’s received 15 Joseph Jefferson Awards, Citations, and nominations as an actress and Artistic Director, 2 After Dark Awards, and numerous Broadway World Chicago Awards and nominations. This is her 8th year as “Mary Bailey” (It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!).
MICHAEL MAHLER (Music Director, Announcer/Pianist) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater and is happy to return to Bedford Falls for the eighth time. He was previously seen at Blues in Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story, Little Shop of Horrors, Side Man, and Hank Williams: Lost Highway. Other recent acting credits include Into the Woods (Writers Theatre); Holiday Inn and Honeymoon in Vegas (Marriott Theatre). Michael’s original musical adaptation of Secret of My Success (Universal) premiers at the Paramount Theatre in February. Other works include Miracle, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, October Sky, Hero, Wonderland: Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure, Something in the Game, and How Can You Run with a Shell on Your Back? Michael recently contributed additional lyrics to Cameron Mackintosh’s Broadway revival of Miss Saigon.
DARA CAMERON (Violet) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater and is so happy to be performing with WABT for her seventh holiday season. 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) Elf, Hero (Jeff nomination), South Pacific, October Sky, Sister Act, City of Angels, Cinderella, The Wizard of Oz, Fiddler on the Roof (Marriott Theatre); Addams Family (Mercury Theater); Dirty 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 proud member of Actors’ Equity.
IAN PAUL CUSTER (Harry) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater. American Blues credits: The Spitfire Grill, Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story (Jeff Award – Best Ensemble, Best Musical), Little Shop of Horrors, It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!, and Yankee Tavern. Chicago credits: Bad Jews (Theater Wit, North Shore Center, Royal George Theatre); 33 Variations (Jeff Award – Best Production), To Master The Art (TimeLine Theatre/Broadway Playhouse); Annie Bosh is Missing (Steppenwolf Theatre); High Holidays (Goodman Theatre); The Watson’s Go To Birmingham: 1963 (Chicago Children’s Theatre); and Fiddler on the Roof (Paramount Theatre). Regional credits: Hero (Asolo Rep), Cymbeline (Notre Dame Shakespeare), and Peter Pan (360 Entertainment – London, England). Television credits: APB, Empire, Chicago Fire, and Chicago PD. Ian is a graduate of The Theatre School at DePaul University and is represented by Gray Talent Group.
BRANDON DAHLQUIST (George Bailey) returns to Bedford Falls for another appearance in It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago. Past theatre credits include: Broadway: Bronx Bombers; Regional: Shakespeare in Love, Rhinoceros (Asolo Repertory), The Glass Menagerie (Milwaukee Repertory), 1776 (A.C.T, Asolo Repertory), A Little Night Music (A.C.T), Dogfight, City of Angels (SF Playhouse), Lombardi, Murder on the Nile (Peninsula Players), and 12 Angry Men (Maltz Jupiter); Chicago: A Little Night Music (Jeff nomination), Oh Coward, Arcadia (Writers Theatre), Cabaret, Sugar, Meet Me in St. Louis, Grand Hotel (Drury Lane), City of Angels, Sunday…George, Assassins, The Teapot Scandals & Best Musical (Porchlight Music Theatre) and Knute Rockne: All American (Jeff nomination, TATC). He has also guest starred on Difficult People (Hulu) and Chicago PD (NBC). Dahlquist is a graduate of The Second City Musical Conservatory.
SHAWN J. GOUDIE (Foley) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. He is excited to be returning for his eleventh season of It’s A Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago. It is a joy for him to share the magic of old time radio with so many wonderful folks year after year.
JAMES JOSEPH (Uncle Billy) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. He returns for his tenth season of It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! Also at American Blues he appeared in Tobacco Road, performed voiceovers for Hank Williams: Lost Highway and American Myth, and has written for the Ripped festival. He has performed on Chicago stages for twenty years, including at Steppenwolf Theatre, Northlight Theatre, Victory Gardens Theater, and TimeLine Theatre. He is your audio guide for the permanent Chicago Authored exhibition at the Chicago History Museum and was nominated for a Non-Equity Jeff Award (Supporting Actor) for his role in Faith Healer with UMA Productions.
JOHN MOHRLEIN (Clarence/Mr. Potter) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater. He has appeared as “Clarence/Mr. Potter” for 18 years 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 include: 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. He’s currently developing Star Crossed Lovers, Pope Frank in Venice, and Glass House, while continuing to install his art works.
Fact Sheet It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!
Title: It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!
Adapted From: Frank Capra’s Film
Directed by: Gwendolyn Whiteside*
Music Direction by: Michael Mahler*
Brandon Dalquist (George Bailey), Gwendolyn Whiteside* (Mary Bailey), Dara Cameron* (Violet), Ian Paul Custer* (Harry), Shawn J. Goudie* (Foley), James Joseph* (Uncle Billy), Michael Mahler* (Announcer / Pianist), and John Mohrlein* (Clarence/Mr.Potter)
Grant Sabin* (Scenic Designer), Katy Peterson Viccellio (Lighting Designer), Christopher J. Neville* (Costume Designer), Keegan Bradac (Sound Designer), Elyse Dolan* (Set Dressing / Props Designer), Paul Deziel* (Projection Associate), Shandee Vaughan* (production & stage manager)
Dates: November 14, 2019 – January 4, 2020
Previews: November 14 – November 15, 2019
Press Opening: Sunday, November 17, 2019 at 2:30pm
Regular Run: November 21, 2019 – January 4, 2020
Thursdays: 7:30pm (except Thanksgiving, November 28)
Saturdays: 4:30pm (except November 16) & 7:30pm (except January 4)
No performances on November 16 at 4:30pm; November 28 at 7:30pm; December 8 @ 2:30pm or January 4 at 7:30pm
Additional performance on Friday, November 29 at 4:30pm; Sunday, December 8 @ 7:30pm
Sensory-friendly performance on Sunday, December 1 at 2:30pm
Touch Tour performance on Sunday, November 24 at 2:30pm (Touch Tour at 1:30pm)
Arrive 10 min early for prizes and audiograms
Holiday Events: Children 12 & under receive keepsakes on December 21 @ 4:30pm (Santa visits) and December 28 (Hanukkah)
Location: Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. in Chicago
Ticket prices: $19 – $69
Box Office: Buy online at AmericanBluesTheater.com or by calling 773.654.3103.
All main stage performances take place at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. The Blue Card – the most affordable ticketing offer for the 2019-2020 season is available now at AmericanBluesTheater.com or by calling 773.654.3103.
About American Blues Theater
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. The 32-member Ensemble has 600+ combined years of collaboration on stage. As of 2019, the theater and artists received 213 Joseph Jefferson Awards and nominations that celebrate excellence in Chicago theater and 38 Black Theatre Alliance Awards. The artists are honored with Pulitzer Prize nominations, Academy Awards, Golden Globe Awards, Emmy Awards and numerous other accolades.