The cast of American Blues Theater's It's a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! Credit: Michael Brosilow

Who needs four ghosts to remind you of the meaning of life when one angel (second class) can do the job? Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life by now is right up there with A Christmas Carol as a holiday classic delivering lessons about the importance of love over money. (Well, a Sam Wainwright waiting in the wings to bail you out never hurts, truthfully.) American Blues Theater has done their radio-play version of the story for 20 years, taking an enforced pandemic hiatus last season. It’s back at Victory Gardens under Gwendolyn Whiteside’s direction, and it retains every bit of the charm and warmth I remember. 

It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!
Through 12/31: Thu-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 2:30 PM; also Wed 12/22 and 12/29, 7:30 PM, Thu 12/23 and Fri 12/31, 4:30 PM, and Sat 12/11-12/8, 4:30 PM; no performances 12/24 and 12/25; Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln, 773-871-3000,, $25-$65.

Framed as a live 1940s radio show from WABT, the story of George Bailey and Bedford Falls (with a brief stopover in the hellscape known as Pottersville) unfolds briskly, with most of the actors playing multiple characters, in addition to reading “audience-grams” from patrons to loved ones. This year, they’re also offering a “teacher tribute” to an educator at each show (perhaps a way of making up for George’s rudeness to Zuzu’s teacher). Most of the cast, including Brandon Dahlquist as George (playing effectively against Joe Dempsey as both Mr. Potter and Clarence) and Michael Mahler as the announcer, have done these roles many times before, and Shawn J. Goudie’s live foley effects are still highly, well, effective. Nothing here feels phoned in or phony; it all hits the seasonal sweet spot. Welcome home, George.