As you sift through the heaps of holiday shows, be sure you don’t leave American Blues Theater’s “It’s A Wonderful Life: Live In Chicago!” off your must-see list. More than a play, it’s an incredible overall experience. Grant Sabin (scenic design) as well as Christopher J. Neville and Samantha C. Jones (costume design) transport you to a cozy, cheery Chicago radio station circa 1940. This is where you, oh lucky audience member, have gained exclusive access to a live radio broadcast of Frank Capra’s holiday classic.
At the top of the show, Michael Mahler, the resident announcer and pianist (among many other roles), leads some pre-show holiday jingles and games. Soldiers are honored individually for their dutiful service. Naturally, a live broadcast would be incomplete without a word from the sponsors.
When the story finally starts, the cast, along with Shawn Goudie’s superb Foley skills, aptly tell the story of protagonist George Bailey. Like so many of us, George is in need of a little perspective. It’s as if he’s climbed half of Mt. Everest only to look up at how far he has to go without acknowledging how far he’s come.
Of course there are no actual mountains here but the analogy is the mainstay of the production. From the outside looking in, George has led an underwhelming life. He loses his hearing after saving his brother’s life. He gives up his massive dreams of world travel in order to revive the family business. He remains dutifully bound to his hometown of Bedford Falls. In short, George is consistently the sacrificial lamb of those around him.
After a misplacement of funds that could cost him his reputation and livelihood, George is left feeling like everyone would be much better off without him. Yet a visit from a “special” friend reminds him (and, by extension, all of us) that we don’t have to wish for a wonderful life: we already have one. (Loy Webb).
American Blues Theater at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 North Lincoln, americanbluestheater.com, $19-$49. Through December 27.