In Concert

Saturday, 11 November 2017 06:28

"This Wonderful Life" is just that - wonderful

Most of us have seen Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” at some point in their lives. Whether a Holiday tradition or by happenstance as television stations run their yearly marathons, there’s a very good chance you have experienced the heartfelt 1946 film classic starring James Stewart and Donna Reed. We have since seen many stage adaptations, from live radio broadcasts to large scale productions. In American Blues Theater’s “This Wonderful Life” written by Steve Murray we get an entirely different spin on this definitive piece of Americana as American Blues founding member James Leaming boldly takes on each character in the film himself in this brilliant one-man show.

For the small percentile of those who are not familiar with “It’s A Wonderful Life”, the story revolves around George Bailey during the late 1930’s through early 1940’s, taking place in the small town of Bedford Falls. The evil Mr. Potter runs the biggest bank in town and has most of its residents and small business owners in the palm of his hand. The only person to stand in his way is Pa Bailey, George’s father, who runs a small building and loans company where people can obtain funds for housing without paying exorbitant interest to Potter. George has high expectations for himself and plans to see the world while working for National Geographic once he finishes high school. After his stint around the world, George would return for college and proceed to live to his fullest potential. George’s life then takes another turn for the better when he meets Mary, his true soul mate. Though his father wants George to take over the building and loans one day, George is adamant that he wants to pursue bigger things and rejects the offer.

All is well for George until his father dies, leaving the building in loans in a state of flux. George agrees to take over temporarily, but soon finds he is needed permanently much to his chagrin. Married to Mary with a handful of kids, life is still fulfilling for George until the bank calls a loan and the money is missing. Instantly put into state of desperation, George comes to the realization that he is better off dead than alive after summing up his life to the worth of a life insurance policy. It is then that Clarence, an angel from Heaven, is sent down to help George get back on track. George wishes he was never born and Clarence grants that wish showing George what life would be without him in Bedford Falls. George is shown the positive affect that he has had on so many people, eventually seeing that he had a pretty wonderful life after all. It becomes a Christmas to remember when George's friends rally to his aid.

So that’s the gist of it.

It is a story over humanity overcoming hopelessness, a story of giving and the importance of friends. After all, as Clarence says, “No man is a failure who has friends.”

In “This Wonderful Life” James Leaming is nothing short of brilliant as he retells the famous classic, acting out each character from beginning to end. Throughout, Murray’s script adds a healthy pinch of additional humor that takes occasional jabs of the film in a fun-loving way. With a handful of very creative props and a backdrop that displays images of the story, Leaming is able to successfully pull off each character he tackles (especially his Mr. Potter and George Bailey) to give the audience a cohesive, engaging and highly entertaining theatre experience. Leaming’s ability to shift from character to character so effortlessly and so convincingly is a testament to his fine acting skills. Whereas one moment he seemingly channels the deep seeded bitterness and craftiness of Lionel Barrymore’s Mr. Potter, his ability to so quickly change gears to become the warm, likeable George Bailey or scatter-brained Uncle Billy is simply impressive.

This play is Jeff Recommended for good reason as Leaming’s performance is something to behold. Whether you’ve seen “It’s A Wonderful Life” via film or stage, it is unlikely you’ve seen a unique version such as this.

Skillfully directed by Carmen Roman, “This Wonderful Life” is highly recommended as a holiday treat the whole family can enjoy.

“This Wonderful Life” is being performed at The Edge Theater (5451 N Broadway) in Edgewater and is running through November 26th. For more show information visit www.americanbluestheater.com.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Chicago, IL– American Blues Theater, Chicago’s second oldest Equity Ensemble, under the continued leadership of Producing Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside, has named Idris Goodwin the winner of the 2017 National Blue Ink Playwriting Award. Goodwin’s play, HYPE MAN, was selected from a pool 543 submissions. As part of the award, Goodwin receives a $1,000 cash prize and the opportunity to further develop his script with American Blues Theater.

“I am of course honored and grateful, but mostly I am charged up,” said Idris Goodwin.  “I want to use the theatre as a venue to wrestle with our national sicknesses but also a place to nod heads in unison, as we collectively imagine towards liberation. HYPE MAN, this latest entry into my break beat plays series, exemplifies this desire. I can’t wait to further refine the play with the indomitable American Blues Theater, in one of the greatest cities for art.”

“We’re honored to announce Idris Goodwin’s script as the 2017 winner,” notes Producing Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside. “Idris’s script is both heartbreaking and humorous with characters impossible to forget. The themes resonate empathy and a call to action. We’re thrilled to further develop HYPE MAN with Idris.

HYPE MAN is a story about a controversial police shooting inflaming tensions between an interracial hip hop trio. It is a rhythmically woven drama exploring race, representation, fame and friendship.

About Idris Goodwin

Idris Goodwin is a playwright, poet/performer and essayist. His play How We Got On developed at the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference, premiered in Actors Theatre’s 2012 Humana Festival, and is being produced at theatres across the country. It is the first in his “break beat play” series which includes The REALNESS and HYPE MAN. Other plays include Blackademics, This Is Modern Art co-written with Kevin Coval, And in This Corner: Cassius Clay, Bars and Measures, and The Raid. Goodwin is one of seven playwrights featured in the widely presented HANDS UP!, an anthology commissioned by The New Black Fest and published by Samuel French. His one act Black Flag was produced Off Broadway in Summer Shorts Festival at 59E59 Theatre. He’s received support from the NEA and Ford Foundation, and awarded Oregon Shakespeare’s American History Cycle Commission, and InterAct Theater’s 20/20 Prize. He's had work produced and/or commissioned/developed with Steppenwolf Theatre, The Kennedy Center, Berkeley Rep's Ground Floor Program, La Jolla Playhouse, The Lark Playwriting Center, The Playwrights' Center and New Harmony Project. These Are The Breaks (Write Bloody, 2011), his debut collection of essays and poetry, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Goodwin’s poetry has featured on HBO, The Discovery Channel, Sesame Street and National Public Radio.  Goodwin is an assistant professor in The Department of Theatre and Dance at Colorado College. Find him at www.idrisgoodwin.com

 

About the Blue Ink Playwriting Award

The annual Blue Ink Playwriting Award was created in 2010 to support new work. Since inception, American Blues Theater has named 7 Award winners, 35 finalists, and 59 semi-finalists. American Blues awarded more than $5,000 in cash and prizes for 2017.  The full list of 2017 Blue Ink Playwriting Award winners can be found at AmericanBluesTheater.com.

 

Each year American Blues Theater accepts worldwide submissions of original, unpublished full-length plays. The winning play is selected by Producing Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside and the theater’s Ensemble. The playwright receives a monetary prize of $1,000 and a developmental workshop or staged reading at American Blues Theater in Chicago.  Finalists and semi-finalists are also awarded a cash prize.

 

Submissions for the 2018 Blue Ink Playwriting Award open July 1, 2017. All submissions must be received by American Blues Theater by August 31, 2017 at 11:59pm. Playwrights may only submit one (1) manuscript each year for consideration.

 

About American Blues Theater

Winner of the American Theatre Wing’s prestigious 2016 National Theatre Company Award, American Blues Theater is a premier arts organization with an intimate environment that patrons, artists, and all Chicagoans call home.  American Blues Theater explores the American identity through the plays it produces and communities it serves.

 

The diverse and multi-generational artists have established the second-oldest professional Equity Ensemble theater in Chicago.  The 37-member Ensemble has 530+ combined years of collaboration on stage. As of 2016, the theater and artists received 186 Joseph Jefferson Awards and nominations that celebrate excellence in Chicago theater and over 31 Black Theatre Alliance Awards. The artists are honored with Pulitzer Prize nominations, Academy Awards, Golden Globe Awards, Emmy Awards and numerous other accolades.  

 

The American Blues Theater Ensemble includes all four Founders Ed Blatchford, Rick Cleveland, James Leaming, and William Payne with Dawn Bach, Matthew Brumlow, Manny Buckley, Kate Buddeke, Sarah Burnham, Dara Cameron, Casey Campbell, Darren Canady, Brian Claggett, Dennis Cockrum, Austin Cook, Laura Coover, Ian Paul Custer, Lauri Dahl, Joe Foust, Cheryl Graeff, Marty Higginbotham, Jaclyn Holsey, Lindsay Jones, Nambi E. Kelley, Kevin R. Kelly, Steve Key, Ed Kross, Warren Levon, Michael Mahler, Heather Meyers, John Mohrlein, Christopher J. Neville, Suzanne Petri, Carmen Roman, Editha Rosario, Sarah E. Ross, and Gwendolyn Whiteside.

 

 

 

Published in Buzz Extra

 

 

10 Years! Fave Issue Covers

Register

Latest Articles

Guests Online

We have 87 guests and no members online

Buzz Chicago on Facebook Buzz Chicago on Twitter