Until Superior Court Judge Thomas Reardon began trodding the boards, the theatrical world had no concept of the stage-door jury. In fact, Reardon could be the only performer who's ever gone to the post-show door to find nine of the 12 members of a criminal jury waiting for him.
After presiding over a long trial in his Alameda County courtroom, Reardon had mentioned to several jurors that he appeared in plays. They decided to show up at the Tri-Valley Repertory's recent production of "Little Shop of Horrors," where Reardon played the eccentric dentist, to say hello.
If Reardon's name is familiar, it's probably not because you read it on a playbill but in the newspaper. Last year he oversaw the Johannes Mehserle BART shooting trial; the emotionally charged case was given a change of venue to Southern California.
In addition to "Little Shop of Horrors," Reardon also has performed in such local productions as Diablo Theater Company's "Curtains" and "My Fair Lady." He can be seen playing one of the "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" in Broadway by the Bay's production in Burlingame.
That's quite a resume for someone who never dabbled in so much as a high school play.
In fact, it all came about quite by accident about five years ago. He was talking with Mark Manske, artistic director of Contra Costa Civic Theatre who was directing a production of "Anything Goes" and needed men for the chorus.
"I jokingly mentioned I was available," Reardon said. "It turns out he was really desperate and took me up on it."
So the longtime theater fan — he grew up in New York with parents who played show tunes at home and occasionally took him to Broadway plays — found himself performing in a musical to which he knew all the lyrics, from "Anything Goes" to "You're the Top." But the musical might as well have been "42nd Street." Although he was cast in the chorus, through a series of circumstances he ended up playing the show's lead.
Reardon was hooked. His sojourn into theater turned out to be a tremendous change of pace from the pressures of the bench. Since then he's performed almost nonstop, with more than two dozen roles in five years, which is lot for anyone, let alone a judge.
But Reardon seems to thrive on it. He admits his fundamental ignorance of theater is probably what kept him moving from lead to lead on stages throughout the Bay Area.
"Talk about ignorant — I was never nervous," he says. "I guess because I didn't know enough to know how badly this could go."
Although he has a mental list of shows he'd like to do, the 46-year-old keeps busy in musicals because he knows he only has a limited amount of time left for the plum roles. That said, he also realizes that right now he is at something of a chronological advantage.
"When a guy of a certain age can sing, dance and act a little, there are opportunities," he points out. "At auditions, there is a line of women down the hallway, but just not a lot of guys."
Before his role in "Anything Goes," he sang for fun, mostly out of the Great American Songbook, and for charities and fundraisers with a group of singing friends who called themselves the Broadway Babies.
Reardon sees little conflict between his vocation and avocation. Of course, he quickly adds, he would never do something that might reflect badly on his daytime job.
"I don't think I would be in 'Oh! Calcutta,' but nobody's talking about that,'" he said. "I think generally the feeling people have about musicals is they are entertaining and fun. It might be a different matter with straight plays, but that hasn't come up."
Judge Larry Goodman, another Superior Court judge, thinks it's great that his colleague has a passion that allows him a little moonlighting.
"He is good. And he's a good-looking guy with good presence and confidence being in his own skin," Goodman says. "Of course, I guess you have to in order to do the stuff he does."
While he doesn't make a big deal about his day job when he's in a play, he is very much aware of what he does for a living, says Daren A.C. Carollo, artistic director of Diablo Theatre Company. Carollo, who has been involved in five shows with Reardon, says the judge shuns backstage drama and late-night post-show cast parties, and is fastidious in his dealings.
"I can't buy him a meal without him having to tell his job; he can't do anything that might be even slightly considered a conflict of interest," Carollo says. "But he is just a really genuine guy. He's very approachable for the cast and has a lot of great stories."
Rena Wilson, who performed in "Peter Pan" with Reardon, said she enjoyed having him as part of a show.
"He's just Tom," she said. "He is a wonderful friend and a joy to be around both on and offstage. I don't even think about him being a judge."
Contact Pat Craig firstname.lastname@example.org