Theatre

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

American Blues Theater, under the continued leadership of Producing Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside, announces the lineup for its 2017 – 2018 Season, “The Beat Goes On.” American Blues’ 32nd Season will include the World Premiere of Six Corners by Keith Huff, directed by Gary Griffin; the Chicago Premiere of Beauty’s Daughter by Dael Orlandersmith, directed by Ron OJ Parson; the 16th annual production of It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! from Frank Capra’s film, directed by Gwendolyn Whiteside; and Buddy – the Buddy Holly Story by Alan Janes, directed by Lili-Anne Brown with musical direction by Ensemble member Michael Mahler. All performances in the 2017-2018 Season will take place at Stage 773, located at 1225 W Belmont Ave, Chicago.

 

“From the lyric beats of a poet, the heartbeat of a family man, the patrol beat of a Chicago cop, to the inimitable beat of Buddy Holly & the Crickets, we’re thrilled with the rich and varied stories offered for our audiences,” notes Producing Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside. “We’re honored to have such extraordinary talent on the American Blues stage.”

 

The 2017-18 American Blues Theater Season up close:

 

The Chicago Premiere of

Beauty’s Daughter

by Dael Orlandersmith

directed by Ron OJ Parson

July 7 – August 5, 2017

Press Opening: July 13, 2017 at 7:30 p.m.

This Obie Award-winning play by Dael Orlandersmith depicts one woman’s journey through life’s obstacles in an East Harlem neighborhood. Artistic Affiliate Wandachristine takes on 6 different characters during the course of this solo play—some broken, some on the way down, but all memorable.

 

16th Anniversary Production of

It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!

from Frank Capra’s film

directed by Producing Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside

November 17 – December 30, 2017

Press Opening: November 19, 2017 at 2:30 p.m.

For 16 years, the American Blues Ensemble has treated Chicago audiences to a live 1940s radio broadcast of holiday favorite It’s a Wonderful Life. The incredible cast recreates the entire town of Bedford Falls with Foley sound effects, an original score and holiday carols. The Bedford Falls “residents” extend their hospitality after every performance when audiences are treated to milk and cookies served by the cast.

 

The World Premiere of

Six Corners

by Keith Huff

directed by Gary Griffin

February 16 – March 25, 2018

Press Opening: February 22, 2018 at 7:30 p.m.

Late one night, two burnt-out violent crimes unit detectives try their damnedest to close the puzzling murder of a CTA employee.  What should be a simple open-and-shut case, however, evolves into a horrifying mystery and unearths a legacy of violence stretching back years.

 

The Chicago Revival of

Buddy – the Buddy Holly Story

by Alan Janes

directed by Lili-Anne Brown

musical direction by Ensemble member Michael Mahler

April 27 – May 26, 2018

Press Opening: May 3, 2018 at 7:30 p.m.

Before the Beatles or the Rolling Stones ever played a note, rock & roll was forever changed by the bespectacled kid from Texas. BUDDY tells the true story of Buddy Holly through his short yet spectacular career and features the classic songs "That’ll be the Day", "Peggy Sue",  The Big Bopper’s  "Chantilly Lace", Ritchie Valens' "La Bamba" plus many more.

 

Additional 2017-2018 Programming

Ripped Festival: Edition 16

Spring 2018

Written and direction by various Chicago artists

 

Since 2009, American Blues Theater has produced 135 short plays in the RIPPED: the Living Newspaper series. Based on the 1930’s WPA era program that brought Orson Welles, Arthur Miller, Richard Wright and Clifford Odets into public attention, playwrights use inspiration ripped from today’s headlines to create stories performed live on stage.

 

Arts Education in Chicago Public Schools

The Lincoln Project

Conceived and Adapted by Producing Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside from Artistic Affiliate James Still’s Pulitzer-nominated The Heavens Are Hung in Black

 

American Blues Theater’s innovative and adaptive program aligns with Illinois Learning Standards to engage 5th-10th graders about the life of Abraham Lincoln, specifically the events surrounding the Emancipation Proclamation.  Students watch scenes performed by professional actors, participate in discussions, and most importantly, write their own plays. Since the program’s launch in 2013, over 5,500 students have participated in the program.

 

Subscriptions

All main stage performances take place at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. The Blue Card – the most affording ticketing offer  the 2017-2018 season are available now at www.AmericanBluesTheater.com or by calling 773.654.3103.

 

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.

 

American Blues Theater programs and activities are made possible, in part by funding by The MacArthur Funds for Arts & Culture at Prince, the Shubert Foundation, The Chicago Community Trust, SMART Growth Grant, Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, the Illinois Arts Council Agency, Anixter Foundation, Actors’ Equity Foundation, and the Chip Pringle Fund. ComEd is the Season Lighting Sponsor.

 

Published in Buzz Extra

 

 

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