Arts & Leisure

Festive fun and Santa silliness at Gem

“HOLIDAY GEM” show at the Gem Theater in Garden Grove (Photo by Lisa Scarsi).

By Thom deMartino

‘Tis the season once again, and One More Productions at Garden Grove’s Gem Theater has once again brought back their popular yuletide musical, “The Holiday Gem.” This is the sixth year for the production, originally conceived by O.M.P. founders Nicole Cassesso and Damien Lorton: and while the heart of the show remains the same, the content and cast varies from year to year — some familiar faces and numbers, yet often some new as well.

The story begins with Santa’s helpers Ernie (Johnnie Gillies) and Emma (Megan Michell) having made their way to Garden Grove, California, with their bag nearly — but not quite — full of the Christmas cheer that powers jolly old St. Nick’s sled. In a very “meta” twist, the pair stumble upon the cast of the Gem Theater’s holiday show, but all is not well — there’s in-fighting amongst the cast members, players stepping on each others toes (literally and figuratively), and the director nowhere to be seen.

Needless to say, the entire ensemble is severely lacking in the holiday spirit. Ernie and his partner have the perfect solution to both fill their cheer quota and inspire the cast: a visit to the wonderful world of Christmas Fantasyland, one of several holiday-themed magical lands accessible by an enchanted snow globe.

But beware — mischief is in the making, as jaded (and jilted) South Pole elf Evelyn (Danny Diaz) and his precocious sidekick Minion (Shayna Gayer) have other plans for the holiday. Harboring old grudges against both Santa Claus (Damien Lorton) and his wife Mrs. Claus (Adriana Sanchez), the duo intend to ruin Christmas for everyone, because if they can’t have a good one, why should anyone else?

It’s a race against time to save Santa and Christmas — can the ensemble capture the true spirit of the season, or do the holiday and Santa have a snowball’s chance in… er, SoCal?

Without a doubt, this is one of the best productions of “The Holiday Gem” in recent years. The cast excels with their lively renditions of beloved, classic Christmas tunes (including some unique takes on a few, such as “Jingle Bells”), and a number of the medleys are incredibly moving (including “My Buddy/I’ll Be Home For Christmas/I’ll Be Seeing You” performed by Peter Crisafulli, Brandon Taylor Jones and Nicole Cassesso, respectively.) There’s some excellent choreography throughout the show, too, deftly performed by the ensemble (including an adorable group of elves executing cartwheels and backflips.)

The entire cast is marvelous — though particular standouts of the show are a pair of alumni from the recent, stellar Gem production of “Cabaret”: Diaz, as the villainous Evelyn (channelling a touch of the puckish Emcee from the aforementioned show), and Cassesso, whose song and dance talents shine as the lead of the ensemble, while also eliciting hearty laughs from the audience with her antics in some of the numbers (such as her goofy playfulness during “Dear Mr. Santa.”)

Of special note, too, is Gayer’s Minion — encumbered by crutches, yet sweetly sarcastic and holding her own to Diaz’s mean-spirited Evelyn:

“Hurry up!” he snaps at her, disappearing offstage.

She shoots a exasperated, deadpan look to the audience.

“Doesn’t he see the crutches?” she retorts.

An all-ages appropriate production, that’s sure to have something for everyone in the family (even the spoil-sport Scrooges), “The Holiday Gem” has plenty of laughs, heart, and Christmas cheer — a perfect celebration for the season.

“The Holiday Gem.” Johnnie Gillies, Nicole Cassesso, and Danny Diaz star in this One More Productions holiday tradition. Playing through December 17 at the Gem Theater, 12852 Main Street, Garden Grove, CA. Call 714-741-9550 x221 or e-mail for ticketing information. Appropriate for all ages.



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