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 “holiday favorite makes the bell ring every time.” (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!) Chopin Theatre
1543 W. Division, Chicago 60642

Nov 23 – Dec 21, 2022
Box Office questions: (773) 654-3103 or

Read Frequently Asked Questions!

Runs 90 minutes, no intermission.
Tickets range $25-$55 – plus additional $3.50 fee

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

Thursdays: 7:30 PM
Fridays: 7:30 PM
Saturdays: 4:30 PM (except Nov 26) and 7:30 PM
Sundays: 2:30 PM
Additional performances: Nov 23 @ 4:30 PM, Dec 21 @ 7:30 PM

2nd longest-running holiday play in Chicago! 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! Joseph Jefferson Award nominations and Dean Richards recommended.

“American Blues Theater lassos a miracle.” – Chicago Sun Times

“Glorious, heartwarming story!” – Chicago Theatre Review

“American Blues plants a whole holiday garden.” – Chicago Reader

“Absolutely delightful, deeply moving production.” – Third Coast Review

“American Blues has outdone itself this year.” – Around the Town

“American Blues hits [it out of] the entire holiday park!” – Tech Razzle

“Warm tenderness attributed to the talent, sincerity, and commitment of the outstanding ensemble.” – Chicago Theatre Review

“A must-see holiday classic.” – Splash Magazine

“A true holiday gem!” – Broadway World


AUDREY BILLINGS she/her (Mary Bailey) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. She is thrilled to be back at American Blues and reprising her role as Mary Bailey (and others) in It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! Audrey was most recently seen as Emilie in the Jeff Award winning production of The Moors at A Red Orchid Theatre and Samantha in the American Blues’ reading of 17 Minutes.  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.

MANNY BUCKLEY he/him (Joseph) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater, making his return to this season’s It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! He is a Chicago based actor, director, and writer. Directing credits include The Bad Seed (Jedlicka Performing Arts), Kingdom, an audio play (Broken Nose Theatre), Origin StoryMother of Pearl and The Reapers On Woodbrook Avenue (Blue Ink Festival), multiple short plays in the Ripped: The Living Newspaper#ENOUGH: Plays to End Gun Violence, and The One Minute Play Festival. Acting credits include work with Chicago Shakespeare, Steppenwolf, Goodman, Court, Victory Gardens, Chicago Dramatists, Next Theater, House Theatre, Shattered Globe Theater, Cincinnati Children’s Theatre and Studio Theatre. Manny has numerous credits with American Blues Theater, where he is an Ensemble member and turned in his critically-acclaimed, award-winning solo performance in Looking Over the President’s Shoulder. Film credits: Proven Innocent, Chicago Fire, Chicago PD, The US Navy, Northwestern University, and The Onion. He has received nominations for the Joseph Jefferson Award, the Helen Hayes Award and the 3Arts Award; he is the recipient of both a Black Theater Alliance Award and Black Excellence Award. Mr. Buckley was last seen this summer in American Blues Theater’s sold-out production of Fences.

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 silly four-year-old son, Ezra!

IAN PAUL CUSTER he/him (Harry) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater and Chicago actor and musician. American Blues credits include: Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story (Jeff Award, Best Ensemble, Best Musical – Midsize), The Columnist, Little Shop of Horrors, and It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! (Jeff Nominations for Best Play/Musical of the Year).  Chicago credits:  Bad Jews (Theatre Wit/Royal George), 33 Variations (Jeff Award– Best Production, Midsize), and To Master the Art (TimeLine Theatre), Annie Bosh is Missing (Steppenwolf Theatre), High Holidays (Goodman Theatre), Fiddler on the Roof (Lyric Opera).  Ian has also had the pleasure of working with Porchlight Music Theatre, Marriott Theatre, A Red Orchid Theatre, MPAACT, Paramount and Court Theatre.  Regional credits: Hero: The Musical (Asolo Rep Theatre), Cymbeline (Notre Dame Shakespeare), Romeo and Juliet (Cardinal Stage), Peter Pan  (360 Entertainment – London, England).  Television credits: Somebody Somewhere, APB, Empire, Chicago Fire, and Chicago PD. Ian received his BFA from The Theatre School at DePaul University.

BRANDON DAHLQUIST he/him (George Bailey) is happy to return to Bedford Falls for his 6th season. Chicago theatre credits include: Sound of Music (Marriott Theatre), Secret of My Success (Paramount Theatre), Miracle the Musical (Royal George), A Little Night Music, Arcadia, Oh Coward (Writers Theatre), Cabaret, Meet Me in St. Louis (Drury Lane), Sunday in the Park with George, Assassins (Porchlight).  Broadway and Regional credits include: Bronx Bombers (Circle in the Square), As You Like It (Guthrie Theatre), The Glass Menagerie (Milwaukee Repertory), A Little Night Music, 1776 (A.C.T.), Shakespeare in Love, Rhinoceros, 1776 (Asolo Repertory), Dogfight, City of Angels (S.F. Playhouse), 12 Angry Men (Maltz Jupiter Theater), Sunday…George, Murder on the Nile, Lombardi (Peninsula Players).  TV credits include: A League of Their Own (Amazon), The Chi (Showtime), Difficult People (Hulu), Chicago PD (NBC).  Dahlquist is also a busy photographer and full-time dad to Amelia Janine.  IG @thats_on_brandon & @brandondahlquistphotography

JOE DEMPSEY he/him (Clarence/Mr. Potter) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. He returns for his 2nd year in It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! Other shows at American Blues include Scapin, Pledge of Allegiance, and Native Son (co-produced with Court Theatre). He also has acted at Lookingglass, Goodman, Steppenwolf, Northlight, Court, Chicago Shakespeare, Drury Lane Oak Brook, and Paramount and many other Chicago theatres as well as regionally at 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.


MICHAEL MAHLER he/him (Music Director, Announcer/Pianist) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues. 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.

J.G. SMITH she/her (Foley) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater. She is so thrilled and happy to debut in this beautiful show, her first with Blues as an Ensemble Member. You may have seen her performing with Blues in On Clover RoadRipped, and virtual readings of The Thanksgiving Play and On the Greenbelt. Theatre: I And You (Peninsula Players); Mother of the Maid (Northlight); Plantation! (Lookingglass); The Art of Sisters (Vision Productions); MARYSHELLEYSHOW (National Tour, Chicago Fringe, TheTankNYC); Peter and the Starcatcher (City Equity Theatre); Alice in WonderlandAs You Like ItKing LearA Christmas Carol (Alabama Shakespeare); and Censored on Final Approach (The GYM at Judson). Film/TV credits include Jennifer Reeder’s Knives and Skin, MTV’s Short Comings, The Dancing Monkey, Dreaming Grand Avenue, Pry Me Open, and Dorm Therapy. Her original films and performance art have shown at New Orleans’ Hell Yes Film Festival, Williamsburg Circus, Salonathon!, Undiscovered Countries: The Infinite Fest, and TransVisions’ virtual SOFT PALETTE festival. She is a proud Equity member and repped by Paonessa Talent Agency. AEA.

Understudies: MACKENZIE JONES she/her (Mary, Violet, Foley) & ZACK SHULTZ (Joseph, Harry, Clarence/Potter, Foley).



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) 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 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, endowment, and permanent home. 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.

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 14th 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 Gardens, 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 a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. She is delighted to return for her 17th year as Lighting Designer to It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! with American Blues. 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 over seven seasons of the Emmy-winning Lighting/Production Design team for The Oprah Winfrey Show. She practices architecture in Columbus, Ohio at an international design firm and teaches architecture studio classes at The Ohio State University. 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 Artistic Director. Outside of her enthusiasm for decorating Christmas trees, she’s primarily a Director. Here at Blues she has directed The Thanksgiving Play as part of The Room reading series; several short plays in past editions of The Ripped Festival; 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. Other 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 Blackbird at Blank Theatre Company. 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.

TINA M. JACH she/her (Production Stage Manager) is excited to be working with American Blues Theater.  She is an Ensemble member of Shattered Globe Theatre and her credits include: Stew, Rasheeda Speaking, This Wide Night, Sheepdog; Be Here Now, Crime And Punishment, How to Use a Knife, and Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday; Other Chicago credits include Four Places (Den Theatre & Victory Gardens Theater); The Father (Remy Bumppo Theatre); Fade (Teatro Vista & Victory Gardens Theater), Hand To God, The Gospel of Lovingkindness, Eurydice, The Elaborate Entrance of Chad DeityAnna in the Tropics, and Knock me a Kiss (Highlights at Victory Gardens Theater), Confessions of a P. I. M. P. (Grippo Stage Company, Inc.), Race (Goodman Theatre), Signs Of Life (Virginia S. Criste Producer).  Ms. Jach holds an MFA in Stage Management from Rutgers University, and is a proud member of AEA.

HAI ALVAREZ-MILLARD she/her (Assistant Stage Manager) is thrilled to make her American Blues Theatre debut! Select past Chicago credits include The Last Match (Writers Theatre, ASM), Sunset Boulevard (Porchlight Music Theatre, ASM), Hedwig and the Angry Inch and The Bridges of Madison County (Theo Ubique, PSM). Hai received her BFA in Stage Management from SUNY Purchase and is now also represented by 10MGMT for modeling. She thanks her friends and family for their constant love.

MICHAEL TRUDEAU he/him (Asst Lighting Design / 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, 2021), 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 (Master Electrician) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. She recently worked as Asst Lighting Designer & Master Electrician on Fences and It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! (2021) and as Master Electrician on Stand Up If You’re Here Tonight. 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 and Passing Strange as part of their Revisits series of lost musicals. She also works with The Black Ensemble Theater, Mercury Theater. Rachel is a graduate of Boston University School of Theatre.

EILEEN ROZYCKI she/her (Scenic Artist) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. This is her 10th anniversary working on It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!.







See what audiences said 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


“Amazing performances! Beautiful voices!” – Natalia E.


“Loved, loved it, loved it! Never gave this story a chance and I am so glad I did this year!” – Maria P.


“Very entertaining. Very talented team of actors. Too bad the Christas season can’t last all year round. I’ll bring friends next time.” – Muhammed A.


“The actors were so talented the way they moved on stage and changed their voices for each part. It was amazing.” – Pachina F.


“[My wife and I] are celebrating our 19th wedding anniversary and 20th anniversary of regularly seeing your production! Thanks and congratulations to the cast for 20 years of a ‘wonderful’ show!” – Roy V.




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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