NOVEMBER 12, 2020 – JANUARY 2, 2021 (virtually)



Based on the film by: Frank Capra
Directed by: Gwendolyn Whiteside*
Music directed: Michael Mahler*
Original score by:
Austin Cook*

George Bailey – the Everyman from small town Bedford Falls whose dreams of escape and adventure were stopped by family obligation and civic duty – has fallen onto desperate times. Only a miracle can save him from despair. Filled with original music and classic holiday carols, this warm tale “is the don’t-miss show this holiday season!” (Chicago Tribune)

For over 19 years, American Blues has treated audiences to a live retelling of the Frank Capra classic in a 1940s radio broadcast tradition, making It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! the second longest-running holiday play in Chicago! To learn more, read our Artistic Director’s note and Backstage Guide. View our digital program.

*Ensemble Member or Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater


Nov 12, 2020 – Jan 2, 2021
(773) 654-3103 box office

VIRTUAL – from your own home!

Runs 90 minutes, no intermission.
Tickets range $25-$55
The Bedford Box $50 (details below)
Recommended for ages 10+
Arrive 15 minutes early for interactive fun

Write & submit an Audiogram!

Holiday events: Hanukkah (Dec 11), Santa Visits (Dec 24), Kwanzaa (Dec 27)

Wednesdays: 7:00pm (except December 2, 9 and 16)
Thursdays: 7:00pm (except November 26)
Fridays:  7:00pm (except December 25 and January 1)
Saturdays:  4:00pm (except November 14 and 21) & 7:00pm
Sundays:  3:00pm
Additional performance on December 31 at 4:00pm

This production completed it’s run on January 2, 2021!

Visit our homepage for more information about future productions.

Videos by Stage Channel

Seen and heard on ABC, CBS, NBC, WGN, FOX, WXRT, WBEZ, WBBM, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Magazine, Newcity, Chicago Reader, Time Out Chicago, Windy City Times, and many more! Jeff Award and Dean Richards recommended

Chicago Tribune

American Blues Theater’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is the don’t-miss show this lonely holiday season
Chris Jones | Nov 22, 2020

Of all the changes that the pandemic has brought to the Chicago theater, predominantly calamitous, it is the annual American Blues Theater production of “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!,” as directed by Gwendolyn Whiteside, that is the most potent symbol of resilience.

Why? Well, for starters, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Even now. Vaccines are coming!

But the main thing here is that the entree is cooked live. Most theaters have rolled out some kind of tape or audio recording that’s already in the can, or filmed something without audiences. Fine as far as that goes. But they’re competing with everyone from Audible to Netflix to public radio.

American Blues, though, is performing the entire show live and in person via Zoom, every night. (Even though this show long has been set up as actors and a studio audience at a Golden Age radio taping, they did not take the easy audio way out.) Nothing is recorded, even for archival purposes.

Read the full review


Chicago Sun-Times

‘It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!’ delivers plenty of holiday cheer, virtually
Catey Sullivan | Nov 22, 2020

For its 2020 virtual pandemic season production, ABT bluntly begins the Zoom Age show (yes, it is a live Zoom show with cast members in those familiar onscreen rectangles) by stating that this year’s production is obviously challenged. For those who’ve seen the production on years past, there’s no hiding the lack of a meticulously re-created vintage sound-booth set. No vintage costumes. No milk, cookies and Santa in the lobby post-show.

Or as co-host Michael Mahler explained opening night: “We’re in the middle of a pandemic. We’re barely wearing pants.”

Despite the obstacles, director Gwendolyn Whiteside makes the show do its job. “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!” is inarguably heart-warming and entertaining. The 80-minute production also makes a convincing case for the belief that good people wield real power. Finally, it is a piercing look at the forces that rob people of that belief. As for those rectangles: Most of the scenes are only one or two people: Maximize their size and the format is more movie than business meeting.

Read the full review


It IS a Wonderful “Wonderful Life!”
Ed Tracy | Nov 23, 2020

You don’t have to be a sentimentalist to be moved by the residents of Bedford Falls who come around every year about this time to teach us a lesson or two about kindness, compassion and commitment. Small town virtues and familiar faces have a way of putting you in a comfort zone, as American Blues Theatre’s stellar online radio show “It’s a Wonderful Life-Live in Chicago” proves again in just under 90 heartfelt minutes.  It was as clear that this warm, sincere Chicago holiday tradition–reimagined live via Zoom–still bursts with homespun charm.

Read the full review



Holiday Tradition Meets Zoom Theatre with ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ at American Blues
Sierra Carlson | Dec 4, 2020

I, like so many others around the world, am still coming to terms with the fact that I won’t see my family this holiday season. I won’t go home for the holidays, I won’t have anyone in my own home, and all those family traditions will have to be reimagined, if practiced at all. American Blues Theatre is reimagining some traditions of their own, adapting the second longest-running holiday play in Chicago for Zoom. It’s A Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! is a retelling of Frank Capra’s classic film about one man’s integral role in his community. This cheerful (and unapologetically digital) adaptation invites the audience to revel in the strangeness and find something to celebrate from their own little square.

Read the full review

See what audiences are saying about It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! :

“Wonderful production”

 “The actors were very talented and I loved how they engaged with their audience.”

 “Enaging, fast-paced… felt like a real radio show. Enjoyed seeing veteran players joined by new actors!”

 “This was fun and not your average Zoom experience!”


 “The telling of the story transcended Zoom.”

 “The actors were superb and this show always puts me in the Christmas mood!”

 “Absolutely delightful! Staging was very creative and you all were wonderful.”

It always brings a tear to my eye, no matter how many times I’ve seen it. You did a great job presenting it virtually this year.”

It was amazing to see how voices and dialogue could create the story which created so much emotion. It was a highlight for me, and one of the most delightful experiences during this pandemic.”

“This has become a tradition in our family and we love it every single time. Thanks to all the actors for making it feel like we were right there in the room with them and MAJOR KUDOS to the technical team for creating an absolute flawless Zoom experience (including the tips on Vimeo – really, really helpful!).”

“This year, for many, many has been less than wonderful, so your show is a much-needed lift. The entire cast and production crew did a superb job of presenting this great old holiday chestnut under highly constrained and constraining (ZOOM) conditions. Bravo!! Your creativity, enthusiasm, and professionalism in these dark days provided a ‘wonderful’ opportunity to pause and count our blessings.”

“I’ve attended the live performance and was excited about this one being able to watch from home. The experience didn’t lose a thing!!!”

AUDREY BILLINGS (Mary Bailey) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. She is delighted to be making her American Blues debut! She was most recently seen as Christmas Eve in the long-running production of Avenue Q at the Mercury Theater. Other favorite roles include: Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar, Antonia in Man of la Mancha, and Hodel in Fiddler on the Roof. She has worked at the Paramount Theatre, Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire, Drury Lane Oakbrook, Theatre at the Center, Lookingglass Theatre Company and is a proud member of Actor’s Equity. Grateful to be spending the holidays with this beautiful show, and looking to the day when we’re all in a room together again. Much love to Nick and Murphy.

MANNY BUCKLEY (Joseph) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater. Blues credits include Six Corners, Looking Over the President’s Shoulder (Jeff Award Nomination-Best Solo Performance), and Dutchman/TRANSit (Black Theatre Alliance Award Nomination). Manny toured nationally as “Satchel Paige” in the original production of The Satchel Paige Story, and appeared in The Father (Helen Hayes Award Nomination) at Studio Theatre in Washington, D.C. He originated the role of “Carson” in Hit the Wall, which sold out extensions in Steppenwolf’s Garage Rep. Select Chicago credits include The Brothers Size, 1984, and Of Mice and Men (Steppenwolf); Dorian (House Theater); In the Heat of the Night (Shattered Globe Theater); Southbridge (Chicago Dramatists); and Love’s Labor’s Lost (Chicago Shakespeare Theatre). Mr. Buckley is the recipient of a Black Theatre Alliance, and Black Excellence Award. Film credits: Proven Innocent, Chicago Fire, and Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing.

DARA CAMERON (Violet) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater and is grateful to be performing with WABT for her eighth 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); The Secret of My Success (Paramount Theatre); 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 member of Actors’ Equity. She is married to actor Michael Mahler, and when they aren’t Zooming together from their basement, they are busy chasing after their stinker of a toddler, Ezra!

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); Princess and the Pea (Marriott 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. Love to Shannon.

BRANDON DAHLQUIST (George Bailey) is happy to return to Bedford Falls for his fourth season. Broadway: Bronx Bombers. Regional: As You Like It (Guthrie Theater); The Glass Menagerie (Milwaukee Repertory); A Little Night Music, 1776 (American Conservatory Theatre); Shakespeare in Love, Rhinoceros, 1776 (Asolo Repertory); 12 Angry Men (Maltz Jupiter Theater); Dogfight, City of Angels (San Francisco Playhouse); Sunday…George, Murder on the Nile, Lombardi (Peninsula Players). Chicago: Secret of My Success (Paramount Theatre), Miracle the Musical (Royal George Theater), A Little Night Music, Arcadia, Oh Coward! (Writers Theatre); Cabaret, Meet Me in St. Louis, Sugar (Drury Lane Oakbrook); It’s a Wonderful Life (American Blues Theater); Assassins, Sunday…George, Best Musical! (Porchlight Music Theater). On Camera: Difficult People (Hulu), Chicago P.D (NBC). A popular photographer, Dahlquist is on social @ IG:@thats_on_brandon & @BrandonDahlquistPhotography. For Mutti & Mom

SHAWN J. GOUDIE (Foley) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. He is excited to be returning for his twelfth season of It’s A Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago. He is so happy to be able to share this beautiful story during this time. Shawn is also a founding member of The Dolphins of Damnation sketch comedy group and a Stormtrooper in the 501st Legion. He would like to thank his amazing wife, their endlessly curious children, and his loving parents.


MICHAEL MAHLER (Announcer/Pianist) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater and is happy to return to Bedford Falls for the ninth time as an actor, tenth time as music director/jinglesmith(!!!). 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) premiered at the Paramount Theatre this past 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. He is grateful to be hunkered down for the holidays with wife Dara Cameron and son Ezra.

JOHN MOHRLEIN (Clarence/Mr. Potter) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater. 19 years as “Clarence/Mr. Potter,” and he 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: 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 WifeDillingerKilling FloorEarly EditionCrime Story (recurring role), UntouchablesDevil’s DominoesStranger Than FictionNo Place to be SomebodyHellcabHero, and Cold Justice. Now he’s developing Star Crossed Lovers, Pope Frank in Venice, and Glass House, while continuing to install his art works.

GWENDOLYN WHITESIDE (Artistic Director/Director) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater and has served as Artistic Director since 2010, overseeing and producing 40 productions (28 unique mainstage shows and 12 years of It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!). In 10 seasons, 14 productions received Jeff Awards or nominations for outstanding play, musical, or solo performance. She created the nationally-recognized Blue Ink Playwriting Award, 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 during a traditional school year. Whiteside served on 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, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (MFA), and a Kellogg Executive Scholar in Nonprofit management (Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University). As an actress, she’s received 5 Joseph Jefferson Awards, Citations, and nominations; 2 After Dark Awards; and 1 Broadway World Chicago Award.

MICHAEL MAHLER (Music Director and Jingle Composer) See cast.

GRANT SABIN (Scenic Design) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. He’s excited to be back with the It’s a Wonderful Life team for his 11th year. A native of rural Illinois, Grant blends his rural roots with urban art. He’s a recipient of the 2015 Michael Maggio Emerging Designer Award. He is known throughout Chicago for his keen eye in capturing atmospheric detail and his ability to design “impressively executed sets” on a storefront-theater budget. His designs have been seen at Northlight, Victory Garden, Steppenwolf, Next, The Royal George, McCarter Theater NJ, Overture Center WI, Theatre Wit, Gallagher Bluedorn IA, American Blues, ATC, The House, The Hypocrites, Christina Isabelle Dance, The Seldoms Dance, and A Red Orchid. He was nominated for a Joseph Jefferson award for his designs of American Blues Theater’s Yankee Tavern, A Red Orchid’s production of The Sea Horse, and Dog & Pony’s production of Mr. Marmalade. He was recently named one of the Top 50 Players in Chicago Theatre by New City Magazine. Grant is currently a full-time faculty member at Columbia College Chicago.

CHRISTOPHER J. NEVILLE (Costume Design) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater. He is elated to be back this holiday at our virtual Bedford Falls. Previous Blues costume designs include Hank Williams: Lost Highway (assistant), The Rainmaker, It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!, Looking Over the President’s Shoulder, Dutchman/TRANSit, and The Columnist. Christopher stitched and assistant designed at Victory Gardens Theater, Lookingglass Theatre Company, Chicago Opera Theater, Theatre at the Center, and Signal Ensemble Theatre.

JARED GOODING (Lighting Design) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater. This is Jared’s first time working on It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! with Blues. His design credits include designs for Writers Theater, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Victory Gardens Theater, Timeline Theater, Madison Children’s Theater, University of Illinois Chicago Theatre, University of Indiana Northwest, Remy Bumpo Theater, Strawdog Theater, The Hypocrites, Definition Theater, Windy City Playhouse, Sideshow Theatre, Jackalope Theatre, First Floor Theater, About Face Theatre, MPAACT, Pegasus Theatre, Next Theatre, Congo Square, Citadel Theatre, ETA, and Fleetwood Jourdain Theatre. He also served as the Lighting Assistant for The Wiz Live on NBC along with Associate Designing for Lookingglass Theater’s tour of Lookingglass Alice in Miami and Denver. He is also a company member with MPACCT. His work is featured at

ELYSE DOLAN (Set Dressing/Properties Design) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater where she is also the Associate Producer. Outside of her enthusiasm for decorating Christmas trees, she’s primarily a Director. Here at Blues she has directed several short plays in past Ripped festivals, staged readings in the annual Blue Ink Festival, and has been Assistant Director on a handful shows including Six Corners and Little Shop of Horrors. Most recently, she directed If/Then at Brown Paper Box Co., and she was directing Nine at Blank Theatre Company at the time of the pandemic shut-down. Her directing work has been seen across Chicago at The New Colony, Broken Nose Theatre, Prop Thtr, Commission Theatre, Babes with Blades, 20% Theatre Company, and more. Elyse holds a B.A. from Denison University.

RICK SIMS (Sound Design) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. He has composed and designed sound for numerous Chicago-area theaters, including Steppenwolf Theatre, Lookingglass Theatre Company, American Blues Theater, Congo Square Theatre, Writers Theatre, Lifeline Theatre, Griffin Theatre, Chicago Children’s Theatre, The Hypocrites, House Theatre of Chicago, Court Theatre, American Theater Company, Victory Gardens Theater, Raven Theatre, Steep Theatre, Northlight Theatre, and About Face Theatre. His additional credits include The Getty, Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, Arden Theatre Company, Playwrights Horizons, Actors Theatre of Louisville, and Portland Playhouse. Rick won Jeff Awards for Sound Design for Moby Dick and Hepheastus (Lookingglass Theatre Company), a Black Theatre Alliance Award for Brothers in the Dust (Congo Square Theatre), and has received several nominations for both awards. Rick also wrote the book, music, and lyrics for Hillbilly Antigone at Lookingglass Theatre Company, where he is an Artistic Associate. 

AUSTIN COOK (Score Composer) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater. Before the Covid-19 shutdown, he served as a sub-conductor of Hamilton on Broadway, where previously he held the position of Music Associate. Before that he served as music director of the Dear Evan Hansen Tour. Austin’s most recently produced album Broadway Lullabies features lullaby arrangements of Broadway hits sung by Broadway stars. Broadway Lullabies is now streaming on all of your favorite platforms.

From our home to yours, the BEDFORD BOX has been specially prepared and will be delivered to your home via mail. It includes:

– A commemorative It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! program
– 2020 It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! ornament
– “I Earned my Wings” sticker
– “Martini’s Specials” – beverage recipes for all ages
– The Greatest Gift, a short story
– American Blues Theater socks
– And a special sweet treat!



We honor one healthcare service worker per performance with a “Healthcare Hero” tribute. We proudly partner with NAMI Chicago, USO, and U.S. Dept. of Veteran Affairs. We offer complimentary tickets to CPS teachers, the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (IL chapter), and American Indian Center.



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