Welcome to American Blues Theater’s 31st season “Define Yourself”. We proudly celebrate the 15th anniversary of this holiday tradition. We’ve delighted nearly 50,000 patrons throughout the years and featured the work of 28 Ensemble members and Artistic Affiliates. One cast member, John Mohrlein (Mr. Potter/Clarence), has evolved with this production since the first curtain. In 15 years, he has never missed a performance. Please knock on wood immediately upon reading.
This story is a staple of our mission: American Blues Theater explores the American identity through the plays it produces and communities it serves. During 2002 and 2003, our Ensemble and former Artistic Director, Damon Kiely, presented staged-readings of It’s a Wonderful Life. In 2004, we expanded the event to a fully-staged production of Joe Landry’s adaptation, directed by Ensemble member Marty Higginbotham. In the years that followed, Higginbotham created a live-radio experience for audience members and adapted a new version with our Ensemble. Dramaturgical research and attention to detail were paramount to our adaptations. Higginbotham’s directorial elements included adding audio grams, lobby refreshments of cookies and milk, dramatized scenes from Capra’s film, a pre-show, and singing holiday carols. In our present iteration, you can also enjoy “vintage” video, the “Soldier Spotlight” which has honored over 300 military personnel, expanded scenes, and a quiz show for the live audience.
This story reminds us of the fragility of life. Frank Capra’s line – “Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” – resonates throughout the year. During the holidays, it becomes a poignant reminder as we gather with our loved ones.
Your gracious spirits and open hearts are equally important to this Chicago tradition. Your presence is a gift to the Blues family. We welcome you—our home is yours.
On Veteran’s Day in 1972, at the age of nine, I stood in a church in Birmingham, Alabama and shook hands with Jimmy Stewart. It was the nations’ oldest and largest Veteran’s Day celebration, and Mr. Stewart was there, not as a movie star, but as that year’s recipient of the National Veterans Award. Mr. Stewart enlisted in 1941, eight months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and “It’s a Wonderful Life” was his first film after returning home from combat in World War II. By the time he officially retired from the military in 1966, he had risen to the rank of Brigadier General and was one of the few men to go from private to colonel in four years. He was the recipient of the Croix de Guerre award, Presidential Medal of Freedom, Distinguished Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, as well as receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross twice and the Air Medal four times. He flew combat missions during both World War II and the Vietnam War, and sadly lost his son Ronald to the latter conflict. Jimmy Stewart was more than a film star and Hollywood icon. He was also a man who served our country with courage and pride – a man who didn’t wait to be called upon.
I think that’s one of the reasons I love It’s a Wonderful Life so much – because it too is the story of a man who lived his life in service to his community. Unlike his brother Harry and the real-life Stewart, George Bailey never donned a uniform. But as the man left behind to organize rubber drives, scrap drives and keep the family business alive, George’s service, like countless other Americans, still made a difference. So this year, as we once again share this classic holiday story with you, we’d like to take a moment to honor and remember all those who have served and sacrificed.
Thank you. And may we always recognize the blessings that stand before us every day.
-Marty Higginbotham, original direction