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