Arts & Leisure

Fun revamp of “Holiday Gem”

“THE HOLIDAY GEM”, presented by One More Productions at the Gem Theater in Garden Grove (© 2021 Ron Lyon Photo)

By Thom deMartino

You can’t stop the tap dancing Santas. Don’t even try.

With the Christmas season rapidly approaching, the curtain has risen upon the newest iteration of the One More Productions ensemble’s beloved staging of their annual holiday fun-fest, “The Holiday Gem” at the Gem Theater in Garden Grove: only this time, it’s a little something old and something new, as audiences are entertained by a newer story than they may have witnessed in past productions.

The story begins with the warm, dulcet tones of the narrator (Robert Edward) as he rhymes the background of our tale: long ago, a beloved pair of performing sisters in their final show together; but while Agatha Frost (Adriana Sanchez) — soon to become Mrs. Claus — is happy to retire from the stage, her sister Cicely Frost (Hannah Clair) is less than thrilled.

Though she loves her sister, she has always struggled to have the spotlight to herself — yet now finds herself lost without her partner to define her, seeding the feelings of resentment and rejection that will fester within her.

Years later, having passed the time honing her own considerable magical skills, the same seething singer receives an invitation to the North Pole to attend Agatha’s anniversary — but after ages without a peep from her sister, Cicely is eager to upend Mrs. Claus’ big day. Intending to manage mayhem with the celebration, she enlists the help of her long-suffering young assistant Minion… er, Marion (Shayna Gayer): who, despite her pleas to the contrary, goes along with her boss’ plan to wreak havoc.

But how are the pair to reach the North Pole in time for the party? At that very moment, in spins the flamboyant whirlwind of an elf, Ernie (a wonderfully precocious Brian Bolanos). Ernie, being a “transportation elf”, is there to whisk the two away to Christmas Fantasyland using the power of the magic snow globe — not realizing that the bitter Cicely has designs of her own on the talisman, to enact her revenge…

What follows is an engaging, funny, moving celebration of holiday spirit, performed by an array of “show elves”, as well as the always effervescent Mrs. Claus and even hubby Santa Claus himself (Damien Lorton): but can all this Christmas cheer warm the frozen heart of the stolid magical maven?

The “Holiday Gem” presents a welcome return to the theater for audiences, after the challenges and struggles for the last year or so: some of that subtly addressed by Gayer’s Minion/Marion herself in the latter half of the production, as she says something to the effect of “it’s okay to feel sad”, that sometimes it’s necessary. But it’s in celebrating those we love and the time spent together that we find our strength.

As with many “Holiday” productions of the past, the show presents scores of beloved songs and medleys performed by the considerable talents of Gem staples such as Erika Baldwin, Peter Crisafulli, Fiona Wynder, Tad Fujioka and Kady Lawson: and yet, some of the more recent additions to the OMP crew (such as Lexi Cross and Zach Martinez) shine radiantly themselves.

Hunter Nelson has a fantastic turn with the seasonal showgirls in the always energetic and bawdy “Dear Mr. Santa”; early on in the production, there is a marvelous medley of Christmas tunes performed by the entirety of “show elves” in the number “Candy Canes, Silver Bells and Holly”; and in the fan-favorite trio of songs “My Buddy”/”I’ll Be Home For Christmas”/”I’ll Be Seeing You” (performed by Fujioka, Crisafulli and Kalvin Sartin, respectively), the pair of Gem veterans are as scintillating and moving as ever, while the newer Sartin astounds with the the depth and breadth of voice in his amazing performance.

Audiences of previous “Holiday Gem” shows will also note the considerable and impressive evolution of Gayer’s Minion/Marion: having watched her (and her character) grow through the last several years of productions, the role of the hapless assistant to the story’s antagonist has developed into one more integral to the tale, reflected by the blossoming acting and vocal talents of the young star.

Of particular note is one unexpectedly strong performance: the dazzling effects of the new, upgraded lighting system at the Gem. While the actors themselves are the centerpiece of the production, the new equipment provides a noticeably and undeniably magical atmosphere to the stage that audiences will appreciate in this newest show.

A welcome return in this 2021 holiday season, “The Holiday Gem” is an excellent revamp of the beloved OMP classic: with newer additions to the tale, and fan-favorite staples intertwined, the show is a festive treat for all ages. And don’t worry: you’ll still get your dancing Santas as an early Christmas gift. You’ve been good, haven’t you?

“The Holiday Gem.” Adriana Sanchez, Hannah Clair, Shayna Gayer and Brian Bolanos star in this updated, beautifully melodic Gem Theater tradition. Playing through December 19 at the Gem Theater, 12852 Main Street, Garden Grove, CA, 92840. Call 714-741-9550 x221 or e-mail for ticketing information. Appropriate for all ages.



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