American Blues Theater’s 14th Year of “It’s a Wonderful Life…” Review – Charming Take on Holiday Season Classic

Full 2015 cast


Replete with milk and cookies to crown the performance, American Blues Theater’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life..” takes you back to an imagined simpler time.  True, there was the complexity of World War II in the background, but this story is set in a world where everyone knows in an instant who the good guys are and who the greedy bad guys are. 


(L to R) Zach Kenney and John Mohrlein


Family-friendly, the telling is re-imagined as a radio broadcast that we are watching as dutiful audience members who will clap when the sign lights telling us to do so. 


Zach Kenney


Magnetic Musical Director Michael Mahler sets the tone literally and figuratively with cheerful singing, piano, mini-harp, guitar, ukulele, kazoo and broad smiles.  From barbershop quartet to Andrews Sisters reminds, the rest of the cast jumps in.


(L to R) Jarrod Zimmerman, Camille Robinson, Zach Kenney and James Joseph


Then, the imagined radiocast begins.  Commercial jingles for local businesses - -from the Lincoln Park Zoo to Bacinos to sponsor Com Ed and more—make us smile.  We play “Name that Tune” for prizes.  Radiograms to our beloveds in the audience are read aloud.    It’s as though we each got a personalized postcard that reads—“Tis the season. Be of good cheer.”


(L to R) James Joseph, Zach Kenney and John Mohrlein


The story unfolds of how super good guy George Bailey  (played by Zach Kenney  has his life saved by an angel-in-training out to earn his wings, Clarence (played by John Mohrlein).  Jack Kenney does an admirable job of getting us to forget that he isn’t Jimmy Stewart, but it’s likely that your fellow audience members include more than one who will rush home, click on Netflix, and then download the Frank Capra movie classic of the same name for binge repeat viewings.


(L to R) Zach Kenney and Amanda Tanguay


With the exception of Kenney, the rest of the cast (Shawn Goudie, James Joseph, Michael Mahler, John Mohrlein, Camille Robinson, Amanda Tanguay, Jarrod Zimmerman )is seamlessly transitioning from one character to another and they are all good.  John Mohrlein’s somersaults to go from arch villain Potter to bumbling angel wannabee Clarence is particularly amusing, as was his spot on imitation of Jimmy Durante in the pre-show warm-up. 


Prepare to see this show with your mind wandering throughout to ponder if it is too soon to book seats for next year’s production.


Now through December 27.


Greenhouse Theater Center

2257 North Lincoln Avenue



For tickets or information visit the American Blues Theater website or call the Greenhouse Theater box office at 773 404 7336. 




Photos:  Johnny Knight

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