"The Lutz Radio Theatre Christmas Show of 1947" is a refreshing addition to the blizzard of nostalgia that traditionally descends at this time of year.
Yes, Virginia, it is nostalgic, but never cloying. Yes, Santa does make an appearance, but only peripherally. And, yes, it is sentimental, but it is also salty and funny in this good-natured staging by the Orange Coast College Repertory Theatre Company.
The demise of the golden era of radio is the real focus of the story, which gives the proceedings a bittersweet twist. In 1947, TV was waiting in the wings like an overeager understudy, soon to step into the spotlight and claim radio's audience.
The script is a compilation of material written by OCC instructor Alex Golson and the cast. The material is uneven, but Golson has provided a durable through-line. His players are comfortable with the period style, managing to have fun with it without poking fun at it.
The fictional setting is radio station KMAS, Hollywood (soon to be TV station KMAS), where a popular variety hour, "The Lutz Radio Theatre," is preparing its final broadcast. The cast filters in, exchanging small talk and stopping to console the scriptwriter, who is frantic with worry over the TV takeover. (Maybe he is the one who has inscribed the graffiti, "Television Stinks," on the blackboard.)
A news broadcast (read by Chris Williams in appropriately sonorous voice) compactly establishes the historical perspective: Eisenhower has no intention of running for public office; the first leg of the still-empty Santa Ana Freeway has just been dedicated; a new community college will open amid the wide-open spaces of Costa Mesa. And, in sports, USC will meet Michigan in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.
The irony that underscores those announcements keeps the proceedings from terminal sentimentality, and it surfaces repeatedly during the variety show that follows.
Silver-tongued Orson Heller is the host (played with smooth assurance by Paul Klees), playing off second-banana William LaSulle (Russell Dunn, who also appears as "the world's stupidest man" in a funny bit); pert, pretty Avery Grant (Alma Ferrera-Grand); character actors Ma and Pa Needle (Kara Greene and Steve Shults, in corn-pone glory), and others. In the background are the harried sound-effects men, producing howling wind, clacking typewriters and dancing tap shoes on demand.
Much of the material is purposefully silly, but among the best is a skit featuring an intellectual super-hero who thwarts evil with snappy academic comebacks. The show concludes with a wild improvisation of Dickens when the cast is caught without scripts. ("I'm going to show you stuff you already did," the Ghost of Christmas Past solemnly informs Scrooge.) What it loses in literary value, it makes up in laughs.
The vocal music segments occasionally misfire. Three that successfully capture a sense of holiday magic, however, are a terrific turn by Veronica Bunas-Stout as a '40s song stylist, an intricate choral arrangement of "Silent Night" and a concluding sing-along that bids a wistful goodby to the end of an era.
'THE LUTZ RADIO THEATRE CHRISTMAS SHOW OF 1947' An Orange Coast College Repertory Theatre Company production of the play by Alex Golson and cast. Directed by Alex Golson. With Sean Welch, Paul Klees, Russell Dunn, Chris Williams, Alma Ferrera-Grand, Eric D. Scott, Sirouss Ramezani, Chris Hardie, David Dalton, Veronica Bunas-Stout, Gabriel Carrasco, Mark Sanchez, John Rinaldi, Glendele Way, George Ramsey, Rose Farquhar, Lisa Bosman, Erica-Anne Reyes, Ginger Giles, Colleen Greco, Laura Hinsberger, Greg Guy, Adam Martin, Tim Knapp, Chris Mangold, Steve Shults, Kara Greene, Kelly Shields. Musical director Rose Farquhar. Set design Tim Knapp. Lighting design Brandon Faloona. Plays at 7:30 tonight and Friday; at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, and at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Closes Sunday. Tickets $4-$5. Studio Theater, Orange Coast College, 2701 Fairview Road, Costa Mesa, (714) 432-5880.