Polish it may lack but laughs there are aplenty in Stay Tuned, Ryan Paul James’ amusing mash-up of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Orson Welles’ War Of The Worlds, Theatre 68’s holiday gift to North Hollywood and beyond.

Told a la It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, Stay Tuned takes us to Hollywood circa 1950 where writer Tom (Robert Dominick Jones) plans to spice up this year’s Christmas special by terrorizing the nation as Welles did back in ’38, an idea that just might save producer Roger’s (Rick Shaw) career if not his marriage to the improbably Broadway-bound Cindy (Vesna Tolomanoska), though with advertisers threatening to pull out, Roger hasn’t had this bad a feeling since he shared a cabin with Rock Hudson.

At the very least, tonight’s broadcast still has sponsors Target Cigarettes (“The cigarette nine out of ten doctors recommend”), Golly Jolly Soap (“The soap that keeps housewives happy as they clean their man’s dishes and laundry”), and Max Factor Makeup (“Make sure you don’t look like a monster when you man comes home from work”), their praises sung by the harmonizing Charmin Sisters (Elizabeth Lake, Melinda Mages, and Laura Bevilacqua).

Hedda Clopper’s Hollywood Minute has the hat-bedecked Hedda (MJ Scott) interviewing cutiepie Jimmy Johnson (Danny Gomez), married to Myrna Loy but recently seen canoodling with Esther Williams; dumb blonde Marla Hicks (Tanya Wilkins), who opted for William Holden’s place last night rather than her own (“I figured I’d let his mother worry”); mid-Atlantic-voweled Patty Nelson (Katie Zeiner), who just finished a picture with “Johnny” Wayne; former child star Elizabeth Witherspoon (Lizzy Kimball), who once appeared opposite Jackie Coogan in The Orphan, a tip of the hat to Stay Tuned director Keith Coogan’s granddad; and William Cotton (William Knight), so advanced in years that these days his back goes out more than he does.

Any hopes of a traditional A Christmas Carol are upended the moment Jimmy’s Bob Cratchit opens his mouth (he’s a dead vocal ringer for Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey) and even more so when Joseph Steinberg’s (Jordan Wall) Fred wishes his Uncle Scrooge a “Merry … Chanukah.” (The boychik’s mother would kill him if she knew he was doing a Christmas special.)

Then comes the breaking-news flash from announcer Norman Woolcott (Steven Wishnoff) that is script-writer Tom’s ace in the hole.

An explosion in an abandoned New Jersey military base has let loose lizard-like monsters bent on wreaking havoc on Bay Head, Bayonne, and beyond, news reported by Pete Prescott (Stephen Jones), with eyewitness accounts provided by Nancy Smith (Brittany Rizzo) and Reverend Bob Smitty (Ed Dyer) and a Presidential announcement by none other than the U.S. Prexy himself (Mark Tracy), and then …

“We now return to A Christmas Carol, already in progress.”

As interruptions keep coming even more fast-and-furious, Stay Tuned earns multiple laughs thanks to James’ one-liner-packed script, Coogan’s exuberant direction, and some delightful performances by Theatre 68 regulars and newbies in a cast completed by Bruce Barker (Brucie B.), Brian Graves (Maxie), and Andrew Retland (Benjamin Grant).

I particularly enjoyed Stay Tuned’s trio of Hollywood divas—Kimball’s lesboluscious Elizabeth, Hicks’ dumb blondelicious Marla, and Zeiner’s evah so sophisticated Patty, as well as Gomez’s droll take on Jimmy Stewart, Wall’s Jewtopia-ready Joseph, Knight’s crotchety old William, and Retland’s eager-beaver Benjamin.

Melissa Disney and Serena Travis have written some delightful songs and radio-jingles, and Disney’s lyrics are a hoot. (“Uncle Bob got the biggest nuts, and he roasts them just for me.”)

Danny Cistone’s A Time To Kill set has been cleverly modified into a 1950s radio studio, with Graves’ Maxie executing one ingenious Foley effect after another. (Just watching aluminum foil, a drinking straw in a plastic cup lid, upside down bongos, and other paraphernalia get turned into realistic sound effects is an added treat.) Costume and lighting designs are uncredited but just fine.

Stay Tuned is produced by Ronnie Marmo.

With Theatre 68’s A Time To Kill set to return in January for a three-week reprise, Stay Tuned fills the holiday gap to laughter-inducing effect, and who doesn’t need a bit of Christmas/Chanukah cheer this time of year?

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Theatre 68, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
December 17, 2016


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