Books adapted to plays. Plays adapted to movies. Movies adapted to books. It’s the entertainment cycle of a good story. So, why not a play about the short story adapted into a movie adapted into a radio show? For those who love the Jimmy Stewart holiday film classic, American Blues Theater presents IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE: LIVE AT THE BIOGRAPH.
George Bailey has spent his lifetime giving up things. He sacrificed travel plans to save the family business. He relinquished his college money to send his brother. He used his honeymoon cash to rescue townsfolk. On Christmas Eve, his uncle misplaces a large sum of the company’s money. Once again, George is compelled to give up something to help. What does he still have to give? ….his life! His insurance policy would cover the debt. As he contemplates suicide, an angel-second-class arrives to show him what life would be like if he had never been born. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE: LIVE AT THE BIOGRAPH charms with plenty of welcoming personality.
From singing carols at the beginning to eating cookies at the end, this show invites you into an old-fashion Christmas experience. Scenic Designer Grant Sabin sets the ambiance to 1940’s radio station. The wall carvings have an art deco vibe. The furniture and velvet drapes have a plush, show biz mystique. There are lit-up applause signs and a foley artist area. The cast is milling around preparing for the broadcast. But the show has already started and we are the radio studio audience. Michael Mahler acts as host/narrator/pianist. Sounding like an old-school-radio voice, Mahler introduces the radio concept and his wife. It’s a blur of reality and illusion as I read Dara Cameron is his wife offstage too. The harmonious duo of Mahler and Cameron lead the audience in caroling. The mood is set indeed for a wonderful life.
Under the direction of Marty Higginbotham, the show is a tight 90 minutes. The lyrical pacing glides as the talented cast use multiple voices to tell the story. In particular, John Mohrlein displays in impressive range from crotchety Palmer to adorable Clarence. Kevin R. Kelly endears as the earnest hero fallen into suicidal despair. Kelly pulls at the heartstrings in his transformational moment. I know it’s coming but I spontaneously tear up anyway. Playing his mother and his lover, Gwendolyn Whiteside turns on and off the sex appeal. In the pivotal phone scene, Kelly and Whiteside emit sparks into flames. For a radio show, there is still plenty of palpable visuals. I especially enjoyed watching and listening to Zachary Kenney. His face morphs to match his diction: bright-eyed kid to corner-of-the-mouth-talking bartender.
This *radio program* is brought to us by sponsors. The play stops for commercial breaks. During these segments, area businesses are delightfully radio jingled. In addition, audio grams are read out loud. Upon arrival, audience members are offered an opportunity to write a holiday message. During the commercial breaks, cast members read the humorous and sentimental Xmas-grams. It’s just another special touch that makes IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE: LIVE AT THE BIOGRAPH the complete package. Christmas carols, Christmas cards, Christmas cookies, Christmas classic! What else is there? American Blues Theater knows how to give a WONDERFUL holiday gift.
Running Time: Ninety minutes with no intermission.
At Victory Gardens, 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue
From the Frank Capra movie “It’s A Wonderful Life” based on the short story “The Greatest Gift” by Philip Van Doren Stern
Directed by Marty Higginbotham
December 17th, 23rd, 31st at 5pm and 8pm
December 18th at 2:30pm and 5:30pm
December 21st, 22nd, 29th, 30th at 8pm
December 24th at 2:30pm
Buy Tickets at www.americanbluestheater.com