American Blues Announces Season and Directors

American Blues Announces Season and Directors

Pictured: Nambi E. Kelley

American Blues Theater has announced the lineup for its 2019–20 season. The company’s 34th slate kicks off with the Chicago premiere of “Five Presidents” by “The West Wing” and “House of Cards” writer Rick Cleveland, which takes place at Richard Nixon’s funeral. Marty Higginbotham directs. “Women’s Work” – an evening of 2 one-acts, will include the world premiere of “Triflin’” by Nambi E. Kelley and “Trifles” by Susan Glaspell, directed by Lili-Anne Brown. The holidays bring the 18th annual production of “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!,” and the season will close with the Green Day musical “American Idiot,” directed by Jess McLeod and music directed by Michael Mahler.

“We’re thrilled to announce our timely Season 34 ‘Then & Now’,” said Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside. “These plays demand audiences look at our cities, country, and culture through a dual lens. We will reflect America’s identity – past and present – through our democracy, holiday celebrations, treatment of women, and challenges of establishment through rock ‘n’ roll.”

All performances take place at Stage 773, and subscriptions are on sale at or by calling 773.654.3103.

The 2019-2020 American Blues Theater Season (descriptions from the press release):

The Chicago Premiere of
“Five Presidents”
by Ensemble member Rick Cleveland
directed by Ensemble member Marty Higginbotham
September 6 – October 19, 2019

There was only one day in history when all five of these U.S. Presidents were in the same room at the same time: the holding room prior to entering the memorial service for President Richard Nixon. “Five Presidents” is the presentation of this once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, as imagined by “The West Wing” and “House of Cards” writer Ensemble member Rick Cleveland.

18th Anniversary Production of
“It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!”
from Frank Capra’s film
directed by Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside
music direction by Ensemble member Michael Mahler
November 14, 2019 – January 4, 2020

As the second longest holiday play in Chicago, the American Blues Ensemble has treated Chicago audiences to a live 1940s radio broadcast of holiday favorite “It’s a Wonderful Life” for 18 years. 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.

Women’s Work – an evening of 2 one-acts
by Susan Glaspell
“Triflin’” (world premiere commission)
by Ensemble member Nambi E. Kelley
directed by Lili-Anne Brown
January 31 – March 14, 2020

Spanning a century, we present two powerful one-act stories about women in America. Dramatic literature’s founding feminist and Pulitzer Prize winner Susan Glaspell’s “Trifles” reveals a murder mystery, inspired by real events. Ensemble member Nambi E. Kelley’s “Triflin’” is a comedic riff on the male-female dynamic of old, and uses explosive characters and poetic language, questioning what is the new paradigm of gender now.

“American Idiot”
book by Billie Joe Armstrong & Michael Mayer
lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong | music by Green Day
directed by Jess McLeod
music direction by Ensemble member Michael Mahler
June 26 – August 15, 2020

“American Idiot” follows the exhilarating journey of a new generation of young Americans as they struggle to find meaning in a post 9/11 world, borne along by Green Day’s electrifying score.

Additional 2019-2020 Programming

Ripped Festival: Edition 18
Spring 2020
Written and direction by various Chicago artists

Since 2009, American Blues Theater has produced 145 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 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, nearly 15,000 students have participated in the program.

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