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 Exec. Artistic Director’s note and Backstage Guide. View our program.

*Ensemble Member or Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater


(New location!)
5627 N. Lincoln Ave, Chicago 60659

Dec 8-31, 2023
Box Office questions: (773) 654-3103 or

Read Frequently Asked Questions!

Runs 90 minutes, no intermission.
Tickets range $25-$65 – plus additional $4.50 fee

All ages – best for ages 10+
Arrive 15 minutes early for interactive fun

Fridays: 7:30 PM
Saturdays: 4:30 PM & 7:30 PM
Sundays: 2:00 PM & 5:00 PM    (no 5pm on Dec 24 or Dec 31)


AUDREY BILLINGS (Mary Bailey) is a proud Ensemble member 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 (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 (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 five-year-old son, Ezra!

IAN PAUL CUSTER (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 (George Bailey) is happy to return to Bedford Falls for his 7th 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 and Bjorn Joseph.  IG @thats_on_brandon & @brandondahlquistphotography

JOE DEMPSEY (Clarence/Mr. Potter) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. He returns for his 3rd 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 (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 (Foley) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater. You may have seen her performing with Blues in It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!, On Clover RoadRipped, and virtual readings of The Cratchits (in America), 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.

MACKENZIE JONES (Understudy for Mary/Violet/Foley; Assistant Stage Manager) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. She is overjoyed to be back for her second year with the IAWL family. After relocating to Chicago, Mackenzie was thrilled to make her Chicago debut with American Blues as Mary in 17 Minutes. She is beyond grateful to be working with the Blues family once again, in the 22nd anniversary production of It’s A Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! Favorite recent credits include; New York City: The Dream: Midsummer (Helena), Head Over Heels (Ensemble), Coriolanus (Virgilia), Monstersongs (Siren Sister). Regional: Rabbit Hole (Becca), where Mackenzie was honored to win Broadway World’s Best Actress in a Play; A Streetcar Named Desire (Stella), Constellations (Marianne), Heathers (Heather Chandler), Looking Through The Glass (The White Queen), Macbeth (Lady Macbeth). Film: Boogieman, A Sacrifice, Binge. Special thanks to Wendy for this wonderful opportunity. Mackenzie is having a ball working with the Chicago theater community that she has long so admired. Representation: Shirley Hamilton Talent. For further information,

ZACK SHULTZ (Understudy) is so incredibly excited to take part in the 22nd year of It’s a Wonderful Life Live in Chicago! He is so grateful to be part of such a wonderful group! He would like to thank Wendy Whiteside for including him and the entire company for being so welcoming and supportive.



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 (Executive Artistic Director/Director) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater and has served as Executive 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 15 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 (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 15th 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 (Lighting Design) is delighted to return for her 18th 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 (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 (Set Dressing / Projections / 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.

RICHARD LUNDY (Production Stage Manager) Chicago credits include: Raven Theatre: Night Watch. Theater Wit: The Whistleblower. Mercury Theater: Clue. Venus Cabaret: Lady Day at Emerson’s…, Company. Timeline Theater: Paradise Blue, The Last Wife, Sunset Baby. Levin Productions: Assassination Theater. Next Theatre:16 productions including The Adding Machine: A Chamber Musical (World Premiere). Writers’ Theatre: Oh Coward!, The Maids. Famous Door: Suburban Motel, Porchlight: Meet John Doe. Also: Hypocrites, Northlight, Remains, Victory Gardens, Organic, Halstead Theatre, Wisdom Bridge. National tours: Miss Saigon (First National Company: Cameron Mackintosh). I Love Lucy Live! (David George). Regional: Olney Theatre Center: Miss You Like Hell, Oil. Also: Trinity Rep, Cleveland Playhouse, Shakespeare & Company, Folger Shakespeare. 37-year member of Actors Equity. 31-year husband of the remarkable Carmel Carroll.

MICHAEL TRUDEAU (Asst Lighting Design, Technical Director) is a proud Ensemble member 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, 2021-2022), Yankee Tavern, Little Shop of Horrors, and Side Man, among others. Outside of American Blues, he works full time at Northwestern University as the Associate Lighting and Sound Supervisor for the Wirtz Center. Enjoy the show and Happy Holidays!

RACHEL WEST  (Master Electrician) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. She recently worked as Lighting Designer & Master Electrician on Alma; 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. Rachel is a graduate of Boston University School of Theatre.

JOE COURT (Audio Engineer) is a sound designer, engineer, and educator. His work has been heard in Chicago (TUTA, A Red Orchid, Mary-Arrchie, Emerald City, and many, many more), New York (59E59, Off-Broadway, NYC), Los Angeles (REDCAT at the Disney Concert Hall), McCarter Theatre Center (Princeton, NJ), The Clarence Brown Theatre (Knoxville, TN.), Great Lakes Theatre (Cleveland, OH), Virginia Stage Company (Norfolk, VA), Actors Theatre of Indiana, and the Idaho, Lake Tahoe, and Illinois Shakespeare Festivals. As an educator he has taught at Virginia Tech, and the University of Chicago. Joe is an artistic associate with TUTA theatre, Chicago. From 2008 until 2016, Joe served as sound engineer for the Chicago production of the Tony Award-winning musical Million Dollar Quartet. He has received 3 Joseph Jefferson Award nominations for his design work. Member, USA 829.

EILEEN ROZYCKI (Scenic Artist) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. This is her 11th anniversary working on It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!

LILY WALLS (Wardrobe Manager) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. Other Chicago companies she has worked with have included Haven (Science Fiction/Double Feature, Titus Andronicus), Midsummer Flight (Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Akvavit (Bad Girls, Rising Temperatures, Family Drama) and City Lit (Hound of the Baskervilles). She would like to thank her friends, family and community for the support and renewal they give, her husband Michael for everything, and August for being the best.

G. “MAX” MAXIN IV (Projection Associate) is a full-time Instructor at Northeastern Illinois University and Resident Lighting Designer for NEIU’s Stage Center Theatre. Max is a four-time Jeff Nominated Freelance Theatrical Designer in Chicago and is one of the co-founders of Another Door Theatre Project. Since moving to Chicago in 2012, Max has created over 200 designs in more than 120 professional & educational productions in or around the city and has spent two summers working as the touring lighting designer for La Musica Lirica in Novafeltria, Italy. Favorite Chicago-Area designs include projects at Mercury Theatre, American Blues Theater, Theatre at the Center, DePaul University, Northwestern University, Steppenwolf Garage, BoHo Theatre, Circle Theatre, Thompson Street Opera and Pride Films & Plays.





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.

~ from 2023’s production ~

“3.5 stars…Warmest holiday show in town.”Chicago Tribune. Read full review.

“3.5 stars…[It] has always been an ebullient open-hearted show – but it shines ever brighter in its new digs.” – Chicago Sun Times. Read full review.

“Highly recommended. …Next to Goodman’s A Christmas Carol, probably the most reliable and longest-running local holiday theatrical treat.” – Chicago Reader. Read full review.

“If you’re a Grinch like me and cringe upon hearing the same holiday tunes year after year, then you’ll appreciate this show that breathes new life into an old classic.”Newcity. Read full review.

“Faultlessly directed production, as well as an incomparably sincere and talented ensemble of actors and theatre artists.” – Chicago Theatre Review. Read full review.

“Officially opened their permanent home in grand style…The theatrical tradition – a family show with a message for the young at heart.”PicksInSix. Read full review.

“4 stars – Highly recommend. Incredible experience.” – Let’s Play. Read full review.

“Highest Rated Shows in Chicago”Theatre in Chicago. Read full list.

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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