Chicago – American Blues Theater, under the continued leadership of Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside, announces the lineup for its 2018 – 2019 Season, “Home Sweet Home.” American Blues’ 33rd Season will include the Chicago Premieres of On Clover Road by Steven Dietz, directed by Halena Kays and The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey by James Lecesne, directed by Kurt Johns; Flyin’ West by Pearl Cleage, directed by Chuck Smith; the 17th annual production of It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! from Frank Capra’s film, directed by Gwendolyn Whiteside; and The Spitfire Grill – a musical book, lyrics, and music by James Valeq & Fred Alley, music directed by Malcolm Ruhl. All performances in the 2018-2019 Season will take place at Stage 773, located at 1225 W Belmont Ave, Chicago.
“Benjamin Franklin wrote ‘A home is not a home unless it contains food and fire for the mind as well as the body’,” notes Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside. “Our Season 33 productions provide fuel for both as we explore American identity through one’s home over a century. We’re honored to share these spectacular talents.”
The 2018-2019 American Blues Theater Season up close:
by Pearl Cleage
directed by Artistic Affiliate Chuck Smith
October 5 – November 3, 2018
Press Opening: October 11, 2018 at 7:30 p.m.
Following the end of the Civil War, many former slaves took advantage of The Homestead Act and went West to build new lives for themselves and their families. Many of these homesteaders were black women who overcame tremendous odds to work their own land and make a place for themselves in an often harsh and forbidding environment. Set in 1898, FLYIN’ WEST is the story of some of these African-American female pioneers who settled, together, in the all-black town of Nicodemus, Kansas.
“A gripping play…a paean to women…and a plea for all women with vibrant lives to tell their oral stories.” – The New York Times
17th Anniversary Production of
It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!
from Frank Capra’s film
directed by Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside
music direction by Ensemble member Michael Mahler
November 16, 2018 – January 5, 2019
Press Opening: November 18, 2018 at 2:30 p.m.
As the second longest 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 17 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.
The Chicago Premiere of
On Clover Road
by Steven Dietz
directed by Halena Kays
February 1 – March 16, 2019
Press Opening: February 7, 2019 at 7:30 p.m.
At an abandoned motel on a desolate American road, a mother meets with a cult deprogrammer, believing she will be reunited with her runaway daughter. Featuring Joseph Jefferson Award winners Gwendolyn Whiteside and Philip Earl Johnson. DC Metro Arts says this smart, harrowing, edge-of-your-seat thriller will “consume your attention for its full 90 minutes, and you’ll leave the theatre fully entertained.”
The Chicago Premiere of
The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey
by James Lecesne
directed by Kurt Johns
March 29 – April 27, 2019
Press Opening: April 4, 2019 at 7:30 p.m.
Ensemble member Joe Foust portrays every character in a small Jersey Shore town as he unravels the story of Leonard Pelkey, a tenaciously optimistic and flamboyant fourteen-year-old boy who goes missing. A luminous force of nature whose magic is only truly felt once he is gone, Leonard becomes an unexpected inspiration as the town’s citizens question how they live, who they love, and what they leave behind. L.A. Times says it “shines with humanity”.
The Spitfire Grill
based on the film by Lee David Zlotoff
book by James Valeq & Fred Alley
lyrics by Fred Alley | music by James Valeq
music direction by Malcolm Ruhl
May 10 – June 29, 2019
Press Opening: May 16, 2019 at 7:30 p.m.
A feisty parolee follows her dreams, based on a page from an old travel book, to a small town in Wisconsin and finds a place for herself working at Hannah’s Spitfire Grill. The New York Times calls THE SPITFIRE GRILL “a soul satisfying…work of theatrical resourcefulness” and The Wall Street Journal heralds its “soaring melodies”.
Additional 2018-2019 Programming
Ripped Festival: Edition 17
Written and direction by various Chicago artists
Since 2009, American Blues Theater has produced 145 short plays in the RIPPED: the Living Newspaper series. Based on the 1930’s WPA era program that brought Orson Welles, Arthur Miller, Richard Wright and Clifford Odets into public attention, playwrights use inspiration ripped from today’s headlines to create stories performed live on stage.
Arts Education in Chicago Public Schools
The Lincoln Project
Conceived and Adapted by Producing Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside from Artistic Affiliate James Still’s Pulitzer-nominated The Heavens Are Hung in Black
American Blues Theater’s innovative and adaptive program aligns with Illinois Learning Standards to engage 5th-10th graders about the life of Abraham Lincoln, specifically the events surrounding the Emancipation Proclamation. Students watch scenes performed by professional actors, participate in discussions, and most importantly, write their own plays. Since the program’s launch in 2013, over 8,500 students have participated in the program.
All main stage performances take place at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. The Blue Card – the most affording ticketing offer the 2018-2019 season are 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 34-member Ensemble has 600+ combined years of collaboration on stage. As of 2018, the theater and artists received 197 Joseph Jefferson Awards and nominations that celebrate excellence in Chicago theater and 35 Black