Wednesday, December 8, 2021

TheatreWorks stages 'It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play'


George (Moses Villarama, left) saves the day, and the citizens of Bedford Falls rejoice. They're played
by  Sarita Ocón, Todd Cerveris, Luisa Sermol and Phil Wong. (Kevin Berne photo)

“It’s a Wonderful Life,” the 1946 Frank Capra film, has become a holiday favorite in many homes.

TheatreWorks Silicon Valley brings its heartwarming story to life with Joe Landry’s adaptation, “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play,” with only five actors.

Moses Villarama plays George Bailey, the hero immortalized by James Stewart in the film. Sarita Ocón plays his wife, Mary.

The other three, Phil Wong, Luisa Sermol and Todd Cerveris, play a multitude of characters of all ages. They also help to create the sound effects to go with the radio broadcast, supposedly from Palo Alto sponsored by the 49ers.

As a young man, George dreams of going to college, traveling the world and building things. He defers those dreams upon the death of his father, owner of the Bailey Building and Loan in the small town of Bedford Falls. George becomes his successor.

It’s not highly profitable, but it helps many everyday people. Its arch rival is the unscrupulous, hard-hearted Mr. Potter (Wong), who would like nothing better than to put George out of business.

Everything seemingly comes crashing down around George’s head when his Uncle Billy (Cerveris) loses $8,000 that was to be deposited in Potter’s bank.

In despair, George considers suicide but is deterred by his guardian angel, Clarence (Cerveris), who shows him what the town and its people would be like if he hadn’t been born. It’s not a nice place.

Choosing life, George is heartened by the outpouring of support from all the people he has helped over the years.

Sensitively directed by Giovanna Sardelli, all five actors are terrific, deserving of star status. Villarama sometimes evokes Stewart’s speech patterns without actually imitating him.

Kudos go to the designers: Christopher Fitzer, set; Cathleen Edwards, costumes; lighting, Steve B. Mannshardt; and sound, Jane Shaw.

And kudos to TheatreWorks for a rarity in these days of pandemic precautions -- full-fledged printed programs instead of a code to scan.

Although one might regard this show as a period piece, it’s actually timeless because it stresses kindness and helpfulness, qualities that never go out of style.

Hence it has a joyfulness that suits the season perfectly.

Running about 100 minutes without intermission, “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” will continue through Dec. 26 at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. 

For tickets and information, including COVID protocols and video streaming, call (877) 662-8978 or visit



Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Hillbarn recalls days past with 'The 1940's Radio Hour'

Joe Gloss plays deploynment-bound Biff. (Mark and Tracy Photography)

After a pandemic-forced shutdown, Hillbarn Theatre has resumed live performances with “The 1940’s Radio Hour.”

Back before the internet and social media and back before TV, radio was a primary source of home entertainment.

Set as a live show emanating from a New York City radio station in December 1942, the first year of World War II, “The 1940’s Radio Hour” evokes that time with songs and commercials.

Hence such products as Pepsi Cola, Cashmere Bouquet soap and Nash cars are pitched.

Some of the more memorable songs are favorites like “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” “Ain’t She Sweet,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “I’ll Be Seeing You” and many others.

They’re all delivered by the 16-member cast and seven-member band overseen by musical director Rick Reynolds on piano.

Some of the songs feature dancing by Alex Rosenberg as B.J. Gibson, Kylie Abucay as Connie and Fiona ONeill as Ginger Brooks. The program doesn’t credit a choreographer.

Although nearly everyone in the cast sings well, one of the standouts is Jillian Bader as Ann, singing “That Old Black Magic.”

Some of the best acting comes from Ray D’Ambrosio as Clifton Feddington, the radio show’s beleaguered producer, and Eiko Yamamoto as Louise, the stage manager who tries to keep everyone in line.

Versatile Joe Gloss portrays Biff, a cast member who’s now a soldier about to be deployed overseas. He does double duty by playing trumpet in the band.

Costumes by Pam Lampkin reflect styles of the day, complete with saddle shoes on some of the actors. Lighting by Pamila Gray, the set by Eric Olson and sound by Ron Ho also enhance the show.

Created by Walton Jones, the show proved so popular in the South Bay that the late-lamented San Jose Repertory Theatre presented it three times as a holiday treat.

Unfortunately, Michelle Greenberg-Shannon, the director here, doesn’t seem to trust the material. Instead she inserts extraneous stage business that detracts from the songs and script.

A certain amount of character development is important, but it shouldn’t be carried to extremes.

Such is the case of Kyle Laplana as Wally Ferguson, a stagestruck, klutzy drugstore delivery boy who winds in up in the radio show when one of its men doesn’t show up. Not only does Wally frequently try to insert himself into the spotlight, he often paws at any nearby woman.

Running about 100 minutes without intermission, “The 1940’s Radio Hour” continues through Dec. 19 at Hillbarn Theatre, 2185 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City.

For more details, including the playbill, go to, which also has ticket and COVID protocol information. Tickets also are available through 650-349-6411, ext. 2.