Christmas Themes and Christmas Dreams abound in the East Bay today! Tis the Season for Christmas Stories and Hope and Giving!

Two weeks ago, I began my reviews of the Christmas season theatrical productions that are easily within a short drive of Rossmoor with Miracle on 34th Street in the Town Hall Theatre, in Lafayette, followed by Nunsense at the Willows Cabaret Theatre in Martinez.

Please read my note at the end of this article about the special performance of "Miracle on 34th Street" for Rossmoor 's Walnut Creek residents coming up on December 23rd.

This week, there are two more delightful shows right around the corner and without a question, these are fun-filled productions bound to set the mood for family and friends and holiday festivities. A Christmas Carol just opened at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek and “It’s a Wonderful Life” just opened at the Del Valle Theatre, in Walnut Creek, as well!

Right next door to Rossmoor, in the Del Valle Theatre, the Contra Costa Christian Theatre is presenting a superb community theatre production of “It’s A Wonderful Life”. This production is thoroughly enjoyable, with a mixture of some outstanding professional level acting by key actors and at the same time, some very amateur over-acting in some minor parts. That is the nature of community theatre, in which neophyte actors first try their wings.

Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed starred in the movie version of this tale, a story that tells of a small town and the self-sacrificing Bailey Family who owned the town’s only savings and loan business. It was this type of small savings and loan enterprise that made the American dream of homeownership possible for hundreds of middle class American families. After years of selfless leadership, George Bailey encounters a financial crises that pushes him toward suicide on Christmas eve. His guardian Angel (second class), Clarence Odbody, comes down to earth from heaven, charged with aiding George in his hour of need and with finding a way to convince him not to take his life.

The play version is the same story, just with more limited staging and flashbacks. George Bailey’s dream as a young man was to go to college and then to set off to see the world and to make it a better place to live by building bridges and skyscrapers. His father’s untimely death forced George to give up his education opportunities and stay at home at the helm of his father’s savings and loan business. George eventually passes his personal savings on to his younger brother, Harry (Mike Fleck), so that he can have a chance to go to college and realize the dream denied George by fate.

George Bailey (played by John Goodson), continues to battle his father’s banking nemesis, Henry Potter, the banker who has stolen, foreclosed, usurped and cajoled his way into the driver’s seat on just about every major business board, or found a way to control just about every enterprise in town. Potter owns the biggest segment of rental property in the town and by not awarding home purchasing power to the working people, he has managed to keep most of them under his financial thumb. That is, until George and his father’s savings institution began to make a difference, to provide homeownership opportunities where few existed previously. Potter cajoles George for his poor business management, for his sympathy and caring and risky loan practices, loaning practices that will make George little profit from his stewardship.

George eventually marries the lovely Mary Hatch who has had eyes on the quiet, gentle, hardworking George, even though she could have married the wealthy young Sam Wainwright. They are blessed with four children, and live humbly in an old home they rescued from deterioration and abandonment.

George continues to employ his father’s brother, Uncle Billy (Steve Dexter), even though Uncle Billy is very poorly organized, forgetful and haphazard. Unfortunately for George and the Saving’s and Loan, Uncle Billy misplaces the savings and loan’s weekly deposit to the bank, a very substantial sum by 1946 standards, $8000, just as a bank examiner is waiting to audit the Saving’s and Loans books, all of this on Christmas eve.

George has no resources from which he can borrow the money without going to Mr. Potter on bended knee, which he does. Bailey tells Potter that” he” misplaced the money, to save Uncle Billy the embarrassment. Potter derides Bailey for his mediocre existence, and asks him what collateral he might have to support the loan he is requesting from Potter. Bailey admits that he has no stocks, bonds or any real collateral in anything, other than the meager $500 cash value of his little $15,000 life insurance policy. Potter laughs at Bailey, tells him that he is worth more dead than alive, and threatens to call the police while accusing Bailey of stealing money from the bank, not losing it.

It is not long after this that Bailey realizes that his company’s only salvation appears to be in the death benefit available through his life insurance policy. He then goes to a bridge over a river nearby. Just as he is about to jump into the river to let fate take its course, his Guardian Angel, Clarence Odbody, shows up. George is stopped form committing suicide, but in frustration, he cries out that he wishes he had never been born. Clarence sees an opportunity to heal the man, and grants his impulsive wish. Suddenly, Mr. Bailey becomes a nobody, a man who never existed, in a town that suddenly becomes totally different, totally ugly, all because of a man who had contributed so much to so many people, never existed!

I won’t tell any more of this story, and a wonderful story it is, because it is one production that you should, - - no, you must go and see "It's A Wonderful Life"!

There are many fine actors. Some are really quite accomplished, quite professional. In addition to the ones I’ve already mentioned, Mr. Potter is played exceptionally well by Bill Dietz. Mary Hatch Bailey is played equally well by Lauren Galvin. I wish I had room to laud the many fine portrayals in this play, but I just don’t have the space. I must however, laude Gary Mutz as the very sincere Clarence Odbody, and John Goodson for his spectacularly understated and defining portrayal as George Bailey.

Now’s your chance to make sure that every generation in your family can share in this heartwarming message, by taking the family to see the Contra Costa Christian Theatre production currently at Del Valle. This show plays through this weekend only, on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., with the remaining Sunday performance at 1:30 p.m., on December 21st. The Del Valle Theatre is located at 1963 Tice Valley Boulevard. Tickets range between $15 and $22 dollars and can be secured by calling the Center Repertory Companies Theatre Box Office at (925) 943-SHOW (7469). For more information, go the company’s web site at

Next stop, downtown Walnut Creek, at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, the Center Repertory Company is currently presenting one of my absolute Christmas favorites, “A Christmas Carol”, written originally by Charles Dickens.

Once again, Scott Denison wields a magic wand that delivers a highly successful production. By combining professional and highly experienced actors, creative staging, outstanding choreography, multi-level set design, highly imaginative costumes and unique special effects, Center Rep’s Christmas Carol continues to command accolades as an outstanding production.

Someone asked me last week if the production really changes or delivers a different experience primarily because there are different actors. I affirmed that it truly does. For example, in this production’s Scrooge, Jack Powell provides us with a different experience through his subtle characterizations and expressions, particularly as he journeys through past, present and future visitations of the ghostly apparitions. Powell does a brilliant job of transitioning from the self-centered and insensitive Scrooge, to the newly transformed joyful and giving Scrooge, glad to be alive and capable of sharing with others.

Many others contribute in similar fashion. Jesse Caldwell, who plays Bob Cratchit, is an actor whom Karen and I have seen from one end of the Bay Area to the other. Jesse always delivers a special performance as he and his character become one in the same. Jacob Marley’s portrayal has been played by many actors over the years and in my experience, some were great, some were less than perfection. This Marley, played to perfection by Jeff Draper, is genuinely terrifying in his portrayal. Some actors lend such a marvelous characterization to a role, that they almost make it their own. Take for example, Michael Ray Wisely, who stepped into the role of the Ghost of Christmas Present several years ago. His characterization brought a new mischievousness, joy and upbeat persona to the character, so that I actually look forward to seeing him perform in this role every year. I might be sorely disappointed if they let anyone else play this jovial Christmas character. While Michael plays several other characters very well, he has put his own special signature on the Ghost of Christmas Present. Kerri Shawn is as always a perfect Mrs. Cratchit and Jennifer Denison Perry always delivers an excellent Ghost of Christmas Past. There are so many sterling performers in this production that it would take more space than I have to write about them all.

There were some very clever costume additions and Melissa Anne Paterson has out done herself again this year. Kelly Tighe designed the two-story set many years ago, but I still keep discovering special effects I haven’t seen before. Choreographer Jennifer Denison Perry has created a Fezziwig Dance scene in this production that is truly spectacular, the very best ever in my opinion! This year, the addition of some low-flying spirits on shoes with wheels in the heels were a delightful addition. Each year, Scott Denison upgrades and adds just a touch more, so that the show is always fresh and innovative.

“A Christmas Carol” continues tomorrow, Thursday, at 9:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m., Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and closing on Sunday, the 21st, with a 2 p.m. matinee, in the Hoffman Theatre of the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts. Ticket prices range between$15 and $40 each. You may call 943-7469 (SHOW) or visit their LCA ticket office at 1601 Civic Center Drive or by visiting the Ticket Office Outlet in the Barnes and Noble Book Store in Walnut Creek to purchase tickets.

DON’T FORGET the special “Rossmoor” performance of “Miracle on 34th street, in the Town Hall Theatre in Walnut Creek, next week. There will be special pricing for Rossmoor Residents at the afternoon performance on Tuesday, December 23rd, at 2 p.m.. Call the Town Hall box office at (925) 283-1557 for ticket and reservation information. Tell them you are a Rossmoor resident and they will tell you what the special pricing will be for that specific show. Gretchen Hansen in Rossmoor transportation (988-7670) says that you should all meet at the Rossmoor bus stop by 1:30 and that the bus service should return you to Rossmoor by 4:30 that same day. The Town Hall Theatre Company is located at 3535 School Street, at the corner of Moraga Road, in Lafayette. This is a terrific show, don't miss it!
Just how joyful would the Christmas season be without the wonder and merriment of the many special Christmas theatrical productions that brighten up our lives every year, those time-honored works of art that seem to set the tone for the Christmas spirit for most of us? No matter how many times I see “A Christmas Carol”, or “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Miracle on 34th Street”, I never seem to tire of their upbeat, thought-provoking and inspiring messages.

In my mind, there is only one movie version of “Miracle on 34th Street” worth its salt, and that was the award-winning 1947 version directed by George Seaton and starring Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood, William Frawley, and Edmond Gwenn. The movie was nominated for Best Picture, but lost out to “Gentlemen’s Agreement”. It also came away with Best Writing, Original Story and Best Writing, Original Screenplay. There are four remakes of this movie in addition to a musical version entitled “Here’s Love”, written by Meredith Wilson. Certainly this story has attained the status of being a classic Christmas tale.

The first such revival of the play “Miracle on 34th Street” to come my way this year, is a superbly funny, mature and heartwarming local production. It is produced by the Town Hall Theatre in Lafayette and is directed in excellent fashion by Jessica Richards (also an Associate Artistic Director at California Shakespeare in Orinda). Town Hall has also engaged a new Artistic Director, the highly recognized and well respected director, Clive Worsley to oversee their operations. Clive brings with his mentorship, a wealth of knowledge of live theatre and actors of all type, including professional, semi-professional, and neophyte. Clive has the ability to meld this rich diversity of talent into a superbly artful and rewarding experience. This production is a perfect example of theatrical prowess in bringing together a lot of eager, hardworking and dedicated talent to provide their audience with a superb evening of outstanding community theater.

It would be very difficult for me to imagine that there is hardly anyone left in our society who is not thoroughly familiar with this fantasy story of a gentleman by the name of Kris Kringle (Santa Claus), who becomes upset when he accidentally discovers that the gentleman hired by Macy’s Department Store to portray Santa Claus in their annual parade is thoroughly inebriated. Kringle reports his findings to the event director, Doris Walker, who in turn, fires the impaired Claus. Walker (played superbly by Beth Deitchman) implores Kris Kringle (Tom Flynn) to don the crimson costume and take on the role of Santa Claus so that the parade can continue without disappointing the thousands of children waiting to see him. Kringle makes such a great impression, that Walker pleads with him to take on the role of Santa Claus in the toy department of the world famous Macy’s department store at 34th and Harold Square, in New York City.

Kringle, being the kindly, honest and honorable man that we envision in his character, contrary to his employer’s instructions, tells a frustrated woman customer where she can find the fire truck adamantly desired by her child, and in so doing, directs her to another store where the gift is available. When the Macy’s managers overhear of this employee’s sacrilege, the act of sending customers elsewhere to find that special gift, they are greatly dismayed by his honesty and his failure to promote products that they want to sell.

Doris Walker considers herself a modern single mother, unfettered by institutionalized dogma and concepts. She wants to raise her daughter as a pragmatist free of fairy tale hopes and beliefs, a practical and self assured woman. Her neighbor, Fred Gailey, is an aspiring young attorney, who is enamored with the attractive and single Doris Walker. Fred Gailey (Timothy Redmond) plays up to Doris’s daughter, Susan, (played by Ellie Garman in this particular show) in order to get to know her mother better. When Fred takes Susan to meet Santa Clause, Doris, the practical mother, takes offense, chiding Fred by telling him that she doesn’t want her daughter taught anything but the absolute truth and nothing but the truth. Her daughter begins to accept that there may be some truth in Kris Kringle’s assertion that he is in fact the real Santa Claus. When Doris confronts Kringle, demanding that he tell her daughter the truth as to his identity, he reiterates and affirms that he is in fact, Santa Claus. Doris becomes deeply alarmed that this man is in fact, a nut case.

A rather complicated sequence of events ends with a Macy’s staff psychologist by the name of Sawyer (played well by Barbara Allen Ceccehetti) sending Mr. Kringle to the Bellview Sanitarium for evaluation and commitment. When the young attorney, Fred Gailey, finds this out, he quits his job with a prestigious New York law firm, to make the necessary time to properly defend Mr. Kringle, in order to secure his release. That court hearing into Kringle’s sanity and commitment hearing is a real jewel, in fact, in the Town Hall production, it becomes a delightful circus. I won’t tell you the clever tactics employed by Mr. Gailey to win Kris Kringle’s release, nor will I tell you the heartwarming and surprise ending that makes this terrific play the gem that it is. You will just have to see it yourself.

In addition to the actors already mentioned, the following contributed in such sterling fashion, that they need to receive kudos for the great contributions they made: Bill Clemente was excellent as the toy department manager, Mr. Shellhammer. Randy Anger was superlative as Judge Harper. Tom Peterson was very powerful as Mr. Macy. Macy’s employee, Miss Adams, played well by Lauren Rosi, is proof positive that there is no such thing as a “small” part or role, what a delightful addition she is to this show. The radio announcer, Alex Dixon Hall, was in perfect voice. Perhaps, the most important role in the entire show is that of the crew that make those most important scenery changes, and in this show, with at least 33 changes, this production lives or dies through their quick and well choreographed transfers of props and furniture. Magie Manzano, Louise Fisher, Kiera Peacock, Kristina D’ Amico and Alex Dixon Hall all deserve appropriate recognition for their hard work!

The set and integral pieces, designed by Loren Hoselton, worked seamlessly. Lighting by Drew Kaufman added significantly and the show was enhanced significantly by the marvelous costume design of Bessie Delucchi.

This delightful production continues Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m., now through December 24th. Additional shows will be mounted on Saturday, December 20th, at 2 p.m., on Sunday, December 21st at 7 p.m., on Tuesday, December 23rd at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and again on Wednesday, December 24th at 2 p.m., the final day of production.
The Town Hall Theatre Company is located at 3535 School Street, at the corner of Moraga Road, in Lafayette. Tickets range between a very reasonable $12 price for youth to $25 for seniors and $32 maximum for adults on Fridays and Saturdays. Call the box office at 925-283-1557 for ticket and reservation information. There will be a special pricing for Rossmoor Residents at the afternoon performance on Tuesday, December 23rd, at 2 p.m.. Call the box office, tell them you are a Rossmoor resident and they will tell you what the special pricing will be for that specific show. Gretchen Hansen in Rossmoor transportation (925-988-7670) says that you should be at the Rossmoor bus stop by 1:30 and that the bus service should return you to Rossmoor by 4:30 that same day.

This is a great show for the whole family, kids and grandkids alike, don’t miss it!

Nunsense makes perfect sense for Christmas celebrating!

“Christmas time is Nunsense time at Mt. St. Helen’s school!” At least that’s what we are led to believe by Sister Mary Regina (Revered Mother of the Little Sisters of Hoboken Convent), as the good sisters of this very unique cloister prepare for a Christmas holiday community TV special being filmed in the Convent’s basement. The Willows Cabaret Theatre in Martinez is currently playing host to these wacky nuns created by author Dan Goggins, by presenting “Nuncrackers: The Nunsense Christmas Musical”.

It has been a few years since I have re-visited the craziest Catholic cloister to ever poke gentle fun at Catholicism. I would suspect that if your religious roots were first planted in the Catholic Church, then this wacky but beloved bevy of Nuns would bring back both fond and frustrating memories for you.

I believe Karen and I first encountered Dan Goggins’ theatrical Catholic Nuns at least 18 to 20 years ago when the Artistic Director of the Willows Theatre in Concord (Richard Elliott), transformed the old vacant Concord Roller Rink into a theatre, to set up their first satellite theatrical venue. It was in this unique theatre that we first came to love Dan Goggin’s original “Nunsense” production, which was centered around the nuns who were having to deal with a vichyssoise soup cooking disaster (in which Sister Julia Child of God accidentally poisoned 52 of her sisters). Botulism is so silent and sinister, isn’t it? The production company was delighted to find that this crazy show could draw people to east Concord and that it would continue to draw patrons for a full 37 weeks. A total of over 35,000 theatre-goers came again and again to see this popular production.

Over the years, Goggins has expanded the Nun’s interest and repertoire to include and explore a wild variety of adventures, including Nuns in Las Vegas, a country music caper, and even a Jewish interfaith experiment.

Since the Willow’s theatre has been so thoroughly enamored with the wacky Nuns from Hoboken, the Willows Theatre Company has not only presented all of the Goggins’ comedies repeatedly over the years, but even dedicated a special theatre to the ongoing yearly re-staging of these fun-filled and highly entertaining shows, called the Willows Cabaret “Campbell” Theatre located at 636 Ward Street in downtown Martinez, one block south east of Main Street at the Corner of Estudillo Street. All told, to date, over 114,000 laughing patrons have attended these shows at the Willows theatre, since that first production in 1990.

Over the past twenty years, you may have seen the original “Nunsense” or any of the five sequels, including “Nunsense 2: The Second Coming”, “Sister Amnesia’s Country Western Nunsense Jamboree”, “Messhugah-Nuns”, “Nunsensations: The Nunsense Vegas Review” or this currently produced comedy masterpiece, “ Nuncrackers: The Nunsense Christmas Musical”. If not, it is time you get your act together and take some friends to see this very funny show.
This delightfully funny Christmas adventure with the wonderfully wacky Hoboken Nuns takes place in the basement studio (formerly the Mount St. Helen’s gymnasium) where a local cable TV company, WCON-TV, is preparing to film the convent’s first ever “Christmas TV special”.

The show features all your favorite nuns, Sister Robert Anne (Deborah Del Mastro), Sister Mary Hubert (Liz Rogers-Beckley), Sister Mary Paul “Amnesia” (Rena Wilson) and adds Father Virgil (Russ Lorenson) as they engage the audience in this befuddled Christmas production, in which the multitalented and slightly naughty nuns attempt to demonstrate their individual talents in a series of Christmas related skits. In addition, the skits include four of Mount Saint Helen’s most promising and talented students, John (Scott Taylor), Louise (Sarah Donalds), Billy (Trevor Gomez), and Maria (Amanda Neiman). The show features a bunch of new songs, including “Twelve Days Prior to Christmas”, “Santa Ain’t Comin’ to our House”, “We Three Kings of Orient Are Us”, “and “It’s Better to Give Than To Receive”.

The marvelously silly rendition of “Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Ballet” is bound to be long remembered. In addition, Father Virgil’s portrayal as Sister Julia Child of God in the Cooking skit is absolutely delightful. Deborah Del Mastro is, as always, terrific as Sister Robert Anne. Del Mastro originated this role when Nuncrackers opened in 1998. She has a terrific voice and plays a “mean trumpet”. Sister Mary Paul “Amnesia” is played exceptionally well by Rena Wilson, who in her bubbly, effervescent charm, reminds me in many ways of that wonderful flying nun of yesterday, Sally Field. Amy Washburn is delightfully rattled as the Reverend Mother and Liz T. Rogers-Beckley does very well as the more serious Sister Hubert. Her rendition of “It’s Better To Give Than Receive” is a real winner.

All together, this is an evening of entertainment that passes much too quickly. This theatre is a very crowded cabaret venue where everyone sits at very small tables. The occasional noise and talking of other theatre-goers, while eating and drinking their various entrees sold by the theatre to fill the inner void, can be a bit distracting. However, the fun, frivolity and bingo game at intermission, make it a Christmas caper well worth your participation. Call the box office at 925-798-1300 or visit their website at for more information. Tickets range between $20 and $30. Evening shows on Wednesdays and Thursdays are at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturday performances are at 8 p.m., and there are matinees on Wednesdays at 3:30, Saturdays at 2 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m., now through December 21st in the Willows Cabaret at the Campbell Theatre.