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 20 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


(New location!) Victory Gardens Theater
2433 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago 60614

Nov 26 – Dec 31, 2021
Box Office: (773) 871-3000 or

Runs 90 minutes, no intermission.
Tickets range $25-$65 – plus additional $4 fee from rental venue
The Bedford Box $50 (details below)

Recommended for ages 10+
Arrive 15 minutes early for interactive fun

Write & submit an AUDIOGRAM.

Holiday events: Hanukkah (Nov 28), Christmas (Dec 23), Kwanzaa (Dec 27)

Wednesdays: 7:30 PM (except Dec 1, 8, and 15)
Thursdays: 7:30 PM
Fridays: 7:30 PM (except Dec 24)
Saturdays: 4:30 PM (except Nov 26, Dec 25) and 7:30 PM (Dec 25
Sundays: 2:30 PM
Additional performances: Dec 6 at 7:30 PM, Dec 23 at 4:30 PM, & Dec 31 at 4:30 PM


MANNY BUCKLEY he/him (Joseph) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater. He is a Chicago-based director, actor, playwright and teaching artist. Blues credits include It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!Six CornersLooking 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 Size1984, and Of Mice and Men (Steppenwolf); Dorian (House Theater); and Love’s Labor’s Lost (Chicago Shakespeare Theatre). Mr. Buckley is the recipient of a Black Theatre Alliance, and Black Excellence Award. He most recently directed Kingdom, an audio drama, with Broken Nose Theatre.

AUDREY BILLINGS she/her (Mary Bailey) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. She’s thrilled to reprise her role as Mary Bailey (and others). (And in person – Hooray!) Previous credits include: Christmas Eve in the long-running production of Avenue Q at the Mercury Theater, 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. Much Love to Nick, and Happy Holidays to you and yours.

DARA CAMERON she/her (Violet) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater and is grateful to be performing back onstage at her artistic home. 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 singing in Bedford Falls together, they are busy chasing after their stinker of a toddler, Ezra!

YUCHI CHIU he/him (Harry) is a Chicago-based actor, teacher, singer/songwriter, and musician. Born and raised in Los Angeles, he moved to Chicago to study at Northwestern University and subsequently taught high school special education for five years. Yuchi then transitioned into acting by enrolling in classes at Acting Studio Chicago as well as completing the ACADEMY program at Black Box Studio. Now, Yuchi proudly serves as an instructor at Black Box. Outside of acting, he can be found bartending, exercising, reading/writing, and trying to get his dog to actually return balls while playing fetch. Credits include Baked! The Musical (Underscore Theatre); How Do We Navigate Space (Strawdog Theatre); BJ’s Mobile Gift Shop (Sundance Film Festival 2021); The Miscellany (The Passage Theatre). Yuchi is represented by DDO Artists Agency and is excited to join the It’s a Wonderful Life family!

BRANDON DAHLQUIST he/him (George Bailey) is happy to return to Bedford Falls for his 5th season. Broadway: Bronx Bombers. Regional: As You Like It (Guthrie Theater); The Glass Menagerie (Milwaukee Repertory); A Little Night Music1776 (American Conservatory Theatre); Shakespeare in Love, Rhinoceros, 1776 (Asolo Repertory); 12 Angry Men (Maltz Jupiter Theater); DogfightCity of Angels (San Francisco Playhouse); Sunday…GeorgeMurder on the NileLombardi (Peninsula Players). Chicago: Secret of My Success (Paramount Theatre), Miracle the Musical (Royal George Theater), A Little Night MusicArcadiaOh Coward! (Writers Theatre); CabaretMeet Me in St. LouisSugar (Drury Lane Oakbrook); AssassinsSunday…George, Best Musical! (Porchlight Music Theater). On Camera: Difficult People (Hulu), Chicago P.D (NBC), The Chi (Showtime). A popular photographer, Dahlquist is on social @ IG: @thats_on_brandon & @BrandonDahlquistPhotography. For Mutti & Mom.

JOE DEMPSEY he/him (Clarence/Mr. Potter) is a proud Affiliate of American Blues Theater and has appeared for in Scapin and Pledge of Allegiance. His last show was The Steadfast Tin Soldier at Lookingglass before the world ended. He has worked at Goodman, Steppenwolf, Northlight, Court, Chicago Shakespeare, Drury Lane Oak Brook, and Paramount among many other Chicago theatres as well as Milwaukee Rep, St Louis Rep, Centerstage (Baltimore), and City Theatre (Pittsburgh). TV work includes Somebody Somewhere, Chicago Fire, ER, and Early Edition and film work includes several indies you’ve never seen.


SHAWN J. GOUDIE he/him (Foley) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. He is excited to be returning for his thirteenth season of It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago, because where else are you told it is ok to smash plates and slam doors. 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 he/him (Music Director, Announcer/Pianist) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues, most recently seen as the Announcer/Pianist/Music Director in Blues’ live streaming production of It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! Past Blues productions: Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story (Jeff Award – Best Music Direction), Little Shop of HorrorsHank Williams: Lost Highway, and Side Man. Other recent roles include The Baker in Into the Woods (Writers); Jim Hardy in Holiday Inn, and Jack Singer in Honeymoon in Vegas (Marriott Theatre). Michael co-wrote the songs for the Netflix movie My Little Pony: A New Generation and contributed additional lyrics to Cameron Mackintosh’s most recent Broadway production of Miss Saigon. Other works as a composer/lyricist include The Secret of My SuccessMiracle (Jeff Award – Best New Work), Diary of a Wimpy KidOctober SkyThe Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes (Jeff Award – Best New Work), and Hero (Jeff Award – Best New Work). Michael is married to fellow Ensemble Member Dara Cameron and proud father to their son Ezra.

JOHN MOHRLEIN he/him (Clarence/Mr. Potter) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater. 20 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 LoversPope Frank in Venice, and Glass House, while continuing to install his art works.




FRANK CAPRA (May 18, 1897 – September 3, 1991) was an Italian-born American film director, producer and writer who became the creative force behind some of the major award-winning films of the 1930s and 1940s. Among his leading films were It Happened One Night (1934), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), You Can’t Take It with You (1938), and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). During World War II, Capra served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps and produced propaganda films. After World War II, Capra’s career declined as his later films, such as It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), performed poorly when they were first released. In ensuing decades, however, It’s a Wonderful Life and other Capra films were revisited favorably by critics. Capra was nominated for six Academy Awards and won three. His films collectively garnered 53 Academy Award nominations between 1933 and 1961. He served as President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, worked alongside the Writers Guild of America, and was head of the Directors Guild of America. Frank Capra married twice and had four children. One of his sons, Frank Capra Jr., and grandson Frank Capra III have both made their careers in the film industry.

GWENDOLYN WHITESIDE she/her (Artistic Director/Director, Mary Bailey (12/29 & 12/31 @ 4:30pm) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater and has served as Artistic Director since 2010.  In her tenure, she created the nationally-recognized Blue Ink Playwriting Award and new work development program, 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. She led American Blues through its reorganization in 2009, building the operational budget from zero to $1 million. She secured the company’s first-ever operating reserve and endowment. 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 (BS), The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (MFA), and a Kellogg Executive Scholar in Nonprofit management (Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University). As a producer, she’s received 14 Joseph Jefferson nominations or awards. 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 he/him (Music Director, Announcer/Pianist) is a proud Ensemble Member of American Blues, most recently seen as the Announcer/Pianist/Music Director in Blues’ live streaming production of It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! Past Blues productions: Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story (Jeff Award – Best Music Direction), Little Shop of HorrorsHank Williams: Lost Highway, and Side Man. Other recent roles include The Baker in Into the Woods (Writers); Jim Hardy in Holiday Inn, and Jack Singer in Honeymoon in Vegas (Marriott Theatre). Michael co-wrote the songs for the Netflix movie My Little Pony: A New Generation and contributed additional lyrics to Cameron Mackintosh’s most recent Broadway production of Miss Saigon. Other works as a composer/lyricist include The Secret of My SuccessMiracle (Jeff Award – Best New Work), Diary of a Wimpy KidOctober SkyThe Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes (Jeff Award – Best New Work), and Hero (Jeff Award – Best New Work). Michael is married to fellow Ensemble Member Dara Cameron and proud father to their son Ezra.

GRANT SABIN he/him (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 12th 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.

KATY PETERSON VICCELLIO she/her (Lighting Design) is delighted to return for her 16th year as Lighting Designer to It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago. Katy has designed lighting and scenery throughout the United States for over 20 years. Favorite Chicago shows include It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! with American Blues; Playing With Fire and I Am My Own Wife (Jeff nomination) with BoHo Theatre, and seven seasons of Lighting/Production Design for The Oprah Winfrey Show. She holds a B.A. from The University of Texas and M. Arch from The Ohio State University, and practices architecture in Columbus, Ohio, where she lives with her husband, son, two dogs, and a fish. Her first building as a project architect won an AIA Ohio Honor Award and was featured in Metropolis magazine.

CHRISTOPHER J. NEVILLE he/him (Costume Design) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater. He is elated to be back this holiday at Bedford Falls. Previous Blues costume designs include Hank Williams: Lost Highway (assistant), The RainmakerIt’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!Looking Over the President’s ShoulderDutchman/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.

ELYSE DOLAN she/her (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 editions of The Ripped Festival; directed 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. Recent directing credits include the Zoom reading of Other Rockpools at The New Coordinates, the Chicago premiere of If/Then at Brown Paper Box Co., and she was two weeks away from opening Nine at Blank Theatre Company at the time of the pandemic shut-down. Her directing work has been seen across Chicago at The New Coordinates, 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 he/him (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.

SHANDEE VAUGHAN she/her (Stage Manager) After spending the last year and half managing all things virtual, Shandee is ecstatic to be physically back in the room with her Blues family! Blues credits: Roan @ the GatesFive PresidentsThe Spitfire Grill, The Absolute Brightness of Leonard PelkeyOn Clover RoadIt’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago (2016 & 2018-2020), Flyin’ WestThe Buddy Holly StoryThe Columnist, and Little Shop of Horrors. Other recent Chicago credits include: Time Is On Our Side (About Face Theatre), Deathscribe X (WildClaw Theatre), Night in Alachua County (WildClaw Theatre), and The Woman in Black (WildClaw Theatre). Shandee is a proud member of Actors’ Equity Association.

MICHAEL TRUDEAU he/him (Technical Director) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater and is thrilled to be working with Blues again.  Past Blues credits include Technical Director for It’s A Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! (2015-2017), Yankee Tavern, Little Shop of Horrors, and Side Man, among others. Outside of American Blues, he works full time at Northwestern University as the Lighting and Sound Technician for the theater department, and is also the Master Electrician at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  Enjoy the show and Happy Holidays!

RACHEL WEST she/her (Assistant Lighting Design, Master Electrician) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater and thrilled to work on It’s a Wonderful Life actually LIVE again and in a new role this year! She has been serving as the Master Electrician for American Blues since 2018. Rachel is the Lighting Supervisor for Porchlight Music Theatre where she recently designed Nunsense as part of their Revisits series of lost musicals. She works with The Black Ensemble Theater, Mercury Theater, MCA Chicago, Actors Gymnasium and volunteers with the Maine-Niles Association of Special Recreation teaching theater to individuals with special needs. She is a Chicago-area native and a graduate of Boston University School of Theatre.

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

“My family and I were thrilled to be part of the audience on Friday (didn’t know about the audiograms before – but compelled to write this the morning after): we felt transported to 1940s WABT studio to enjoy and participate in this timeless Christmas classic.” – Samuel



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 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

The Bedford Box

From our home to yours, The Bedford Box has been specially prepared for you! Delivered to your home via mail or picked up at the box office, this box has all the charm of your favorite production.

Contents include

– 20th anniversary commemorative It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! program
– vintage copper 2.5″ Wonderful Life ornament
– “Martini’s Specials” beverage recipes for all ages
– (new edition) of “The Greatest Gift” short story and companion audiobook, read by Artistic Affiliate Adrienne Walker (Broadway’s Nala in The Lion King) and composed music by Ensemble member Austin Cook (conductor for Broadway’s Hamilton).
– American Blues Theater socks
– “I Earned My Wings” sticker
– and a special sweet treat!



We honor one teacher per performance with a “Teacher 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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