“Turn in your cameras,” say the cast of “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!” shortly after Zuzu’s bell-ringing has signaled yet one more good day for angels, “we wish to see you now.”

And with that request Thursday evening, a bunch of little black Zoom squares had been full of, properly, bizarre folks, all blinking at the digital camera. Some featured a little clutch of associated faces, wrinkled or diminutive or struggling to remain awake. Some contained only one. All had been smiling.

Of all the adjustments that the pandemic has delivered to the Chicago theater, predominantly calamitous, it is the annual American Blues Theater manufacturing of “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!,” as directed by Gwendolyn Whiteside, that is the most potent image of resilience.

Why? Well, for starters, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Even now. Vaccines are coming!


But the essential factor right here is that the entree is cooked dwell. Most theaters have rolled out some form of tape or audio recording that is already in the can, or filmed one thing with out audiences. Fine so far as that goes. But they’re competing with everybody from Audible to Netflix to public radio.

American Blues, although, is performing the total show dwell and in particular person by way of Zoom, each evening. (Even although this show lengthy has been arrange as actors and a studio viewers at a Golden Age radio taping, they didn’t take the simple audio method out.) Nothing is recorded, even for archival functions.

They’ve achieved this safely by constructing a matching bodily set, as designed by Grant Sabin, in the six completely different properties of the actors in the show. (Two of the mainstays of this annual manufacturing, Dara Cameron and Michael Mahler, are married to one another, for which Sabin and his fellow designers will need to have been grateful.) None of the backgrounds are digital, as least so far as I may inform. Nothing is the work of some technological Mr. Potter.

The cast of “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!” by American Blues Theater, introduced for 2020 as a Zoom broadcast, with Brandon Dalquist (George Bailey, clockwise from high left), Ian Paul Custer (Harry), Dara Cameron and Michael Mahler (Violet and music), Manny Buckley (Joseph), Shawn J. Goudie (foley artist) and Audrey Billings (Mary Bailey). (ABT photograph / HANDOUT)

As you could properly know, dwell Zoom mixing is removed from simple to tug off, particularly whenever you need an viewers with differing ranges of technical competency to work together with the performers. But with a little bit of humorous coaxing from the cast about views, mutes and cameras, most everyone can get there today. As Mahler stated at one level: Anything can work on Zoom in the event you attempt arduous sufficient. But that solely works when the professionals have the whole lot down chilly, or moderately heat. They actually do right here.

American Blues is aware of the way to inform this story: this is the show’s nineteenth 12 months. Old fingers like Brandon Dalquist, Ian Paul Custer and John “Clarence” Mohrlein have been exhibiting up for eons, with Manny Buckley and Audrey Billings newer additions. The better part, although, has at all times been the stuff alongside the essential screenplay of the film — the pre-show musical numbers, the musical phrases from the sponsors. With that in thoughts, I popped again in on Saturday evening, simply in time to listen to a singalong of “Hallelujah” (with apologies to Leonard Cohen), Cameron’s pretty rendition of “Silver Bells” (following an viewers ballot), a name-that-tune trivia contest (with a extremely aggressive child’s version), and better of all, the cast and viewers’s mixed tribute to healthcare staff.

Manny Buckley and John Morlein (Clarence/Mr.Potter) in
Manny Buckley and John Morlein (Clarence/Mr.Potter) in “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!” by American Blues Theater. (ABT photograph)

Sometimes critics watch reveals and discover themselves wanting to inform sure folks about what is to be discovered right here. This was true right here, so let me make some ideas.

If you’re lonely this holiday season, this show will make you’re feeling much less so, even when only for a jiffy. If you’re removed from family members, you could possibly truly all meet up for a couple of hours throughout this show out of your completely different properties (anyplace in the world) and even ship one another some singing telegrams with out further cost. It is about as shut as you will get to going to a holiday show collectively, particularly in the event you arrive at the very least 5 minutes early and stick round afterwards for the little post-show social gathering. That’s the fantastic thing about liveness, it imparts a sense of togetherness. Even on this chilliest of platforms. The coldness of the company “you are muted” expertise is mitigated with kindness right here, which is the largest achievement of all.

One final level. To pull this off, the actors needed to be prepared to take some private dangers: Cameron and Mahler, all retro-chic and glammed up in the basement, had been clearly fearful their younger child may exit his bed room at any second and Zoom bomb his method into their non permanent Capra-esque fantasy. Should that ever occur, he could be welcome, after all. That form of factor is precisely what we’re all lacking so very a lot.

“It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!” performs by way of Jan. 2 (together with a uncommon Christmas Eve efficiency). Capacity is restricted to 90 for every efficiency. For tickets ($25-$55), name 773-654-3103 or go to AmericanBluesTheater.com.

Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.

Source: www.chicagotribune.com


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