How many opportunities do you have to leave your cynicism at the door and sincerely appreciate the best of what this season is supposed to be? Now, “One More Productions”—the resident production company of the landmark “Gem Theatre” in Garden Grove California, once again invites audiences to have themselves “A Merry Little Christmas” with their annual “Holiday Gem”—a jubilant family oriented celebration of all things ‘Noel’! Sure to fill spectators with the ‘spirit of the season’, the score is loaded with well-known standards, holiday classics, and a few surprises–all connected by a simple but effective story of two young girls and the tune-filled Yuletide adventure they find themselves taken on. In fact, “One More Productions” has deftly managed to offer Garden Grove (and all of Southern California, really) the stylish equivalent to a live-action “Rankin/Bass” Christmas Special all its own, boasting equal parts heart, talent, and sheer enjoy-ability. There‘s so much to like here it’s almost like having to choose which present to open first or which one you like the most!
To be sure, it’s been a full and prosperous year for the group at “The Gem” since reopening last December after a fire in May of 2011 disrupted operations for two years, and happily, in many ways this is like a homecoming for more than a few of the performers who have graced the theater’s stage over the past twelve months. The story (and yes, there is one) concerns two small sisters named “Holly” and “Hope” who have recently moved out West to Garden Grove; Holly, the elder sibling seems to be having the “Southern California Holiday Blues”: “No snow, No Grandma!” she laments—even going so far as to call her belief in Santa Claus himself into question. No sooner than she does this though, that an elf named “Elroy” (who introduces himself as a “Holiday Magic Technician”) appears via the auspices of a magic snow globe that can transport those who use it to any place or any time—provided they truly believe in the magic of Christmas (“With each song, the magic of the season just grows and grows” Elroy tells the girls.)
Immediately, when the stately red-velvet curtains part, they reveal a picturesque wintry town-scape worthy of a “Currier and Ives” print. After a melodic visit to Santa’s Artic workshop, Act Two picks up with a trip to Victorian England reminiscent of a scene right out of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. Following the unabashed playfulness and joviality of the first act, things are slightly more refined and secular–there’s even a point where the audience is invited to sing along to such old favorites as “Oh, Come All Ye Faithful”, “Hark, The Herald Angels Sing” and “Joy To The World”—with all their various verses intact. Afterwards, much of the second part is really more a series of solo turns, (and even a terrific trio) punctuated by a few amazing company-performed medleys honoring a more traditional Christmas observation, and of course before the night is through, rest assured “Jolly Old St. Nick” will make an appearance–leading a chorus line of tap-dancing Santas!
As the ‘Lead Elf’ “Elroy”, Chris Harper favors the route of “Child-like” over “child-ish”, making for a genial guide on this magical musical tour. Then there’s young Sophia Scarsi as “Holly”. No stranger to “The Gem Theatre” stage having previously appeared this year in “Violet” and “Gypsy”, she gives the first act a real shot in the arm with an A-Plus rendition of Irving Berlin’s iconic “White Christmas” (—complete with its seldom heard opening verse!) She also shines in the second act with her sensitive handling of “Where Are You Christmas” (–from the big screen version of “How The Grinch Stole Christmas”.) ‘Tiny-Titan’ Shayna Gayer also is an adorable bundle of energy with a voice several times her diminutive stature as her little sister, “Hope”. Meanwhile, Brandon Taylor Jones has a nice “Dennis Day” like quality to his rich tenor voice which he puts to excellent use in the service of Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)” and the poignant “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”; while Tad Fujioka, (another proven talent at “The Gem”,) offers both a lighter touch of humor with “Mr. Santa” before delivering a more sublime take on “My Buddy”.
Jade Taylor also makes for a great “Bette Midler-esque” “Mrs. Claus”, possessing an incredibly supple and robust voice which she awesomely demonstrates with “The Man With Bag” and the Act One closer, “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”; while Nicole Cassesso too, once again more than proves her value to the “One More Productions” family of players leading the troupe in “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”; shortly thereafter, she does a similarly impressive job along with Dayna Laramie and Rene Bordelon in a brilliant send-up of Barbra Streisand’s “Jingle Bells” which immediately segues into the more “Andrews Sisters” inspired “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm”. Her touching rendition of “I’ll Be Seeing You” is also a bona fide crowd pleaser! Not to be over-looked either are the younger members of the cast who each make a delightful contribution as well. They include Preston Coulis, Seth Elliot, Rebekka Galperin, Delaney Manna, Khloe L. Martinez, Zack Martinez, Isabel Melgoza, Brianna Sanchez and Kole Williamson. Conjointly, their turn with Jerry Herman’s timeless “Need A Little Christmas” will warm even the frostiest disposition, as will their vivacious medley of the kid favorites “I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas”, “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth’ and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” (sung individually at first, then shrewdly ‘intertwined’ and sung simultaneously in perfect harmony!)
Then again, the entire enthusiastic ensemble work is nothing short of first-rate, and each cast-member can readily lay claim to ‘a voice as big as the sea”! “The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” is a buoyant opening that contains some nifty footwork, and ”Sleigh Ride” is another superb chorale-piece featuring some fast and fancy dancing and prancing—compliments of Choreographer Shauna Bradford-Martinez. Likewise, Ms. Bradford-Martinez infuses “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with lots of clever comic capering. Anthony Encina also provides some genuinely graceful moves as the show’s “Ball Room” Choreographer, adding his elegant stamp onto “It’s That Time Of Year” and “The Christmas Waltz”. Later, decked out in exquisite ball gowns, top hats and tails, the cast show-off their collective vocal-dexterity as well with “Oh, Holy Night”, “Do You Hear What I Hear”, “The Carol Of The Bells” and the upbeat finale of Comden and Green’s bubbly “Be A Santa”.
Showcasing one great tune after another—with several of the more inspired music choices you probably haven’t heard in years, the witty original book by Chris Harper presents a down-right ebullient exploration of this holiday called “Christmas” in its many meanings. Whether it’s about “Santa Claus” and reindeer for some people, the sacred birth of their Lord and Saviour for others, or merely a reason for getting together with family, friends, and loved-ones for some joyous year-end festivities, you can bet it’s covered here! Aiding immensely in making the magic happen is Wally Huntoon’s thrillingly evocative sets—whether they be Santa’s Candy-Cane Colored Workshop, a snow-covered forest, or an ‘Olde English Village” set adrift in time. Costume Coordinator Lalena Vigil Hutton’s costumes also run the gamut from traditional Victorian garb, to the ‘Holiday-Ornamental’ gaiety of Santa’s Elves (complete with red-and-green curl-toed footwear) to some chic 1940’s-era evening wear, and each help to create the look and feel of “That Hap-Happiest Season Of All”!
So ‘come all ye faithful’–for a genuinely rousing time filled with the joy of the holiday season and ‘make this December one to remember”! Located at 12852 Main Street in Garden Grove California, “The Gem Theatre’s” “Holiday Gem” opened Saturday, November 29th, where performances will run Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 PM, with Sunday Matinees starting at 2:00 PM through Sunday, Dec. 21. In addition, there are two special “Family Day” Matinees on Saturday December 6 and 13, starting at 2:00 PM. (Tickets for kids 12 and under on these days are only $10, and after the show, families are welcome to stay and meet Santa and his elves, have photos taken, and do coloring crafts with the cast.) Special student rush tickets are also available for Thursday and Friday performances. For more information or to purchase tickets, call “One More Productions” at (714) 741-9550, ext. 225, or visit the website at www.onemoreproductions.com.
Production Photos By Lisa Scarsi, Courtesy Of Dan Pittman At “Pittman P.R.” (www.pittmanpr.com) And “One More Productions”; Special Thanks & “A Happy Holidays” To Dan Pittman, Damien Lorton, Nicole Cassesso, And To The Cast & Crew Of “One More Productions’ ” “The Holiday Gem” For Making This Story Possible.