REVIEW: “The Holiday GEM” — One More Productions @ GEM Theatre

Updated: Mar 25

"Warning! Your Holiday Spirit is About to Get Much Brighter!"

“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 “The Holiday GEM”—a jubilant family-oriented Christmas celebration, sure to fill spectators with the spirit of the season. The score is loaded with well-known standards, holiday classics, and even a few surprises at the end—all connected by a simple but effective story of two sweet but slightly contentious sisters in a tune-filled Yuletide adventure at the North Pole. Think the Clooney sisters meet Anna and Elsa. There's much to unpack, but with so much to see, it’s like having to choose which present to open first.


Showcasing one great tune after another—with several of the more inspired music choices you probably haven’t heard in years, the witty book by Nicole Cassesso and Chris Harper presents a down-right ebullient exploration of this holiday called Christmas in its many meanings, with all your favorite holiday music wrapped into one production. Performances are November 26th through December 19th. Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 pm, with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. Saturday night’s opening gala reception event included free champagne, appetizers and desserts.


Founded in 2004 by Nicole Cassesso (2017/2018 Broadway World Nominations – “Always Patsy Cline”) and Damien Lorton (LA Times Man of the Year Award), One More Productions brings together only the most talented individuals to present live theater with the utmost value, integrity and passion, providing a truly unparalleled and unique experience for all those involved. For this special holiday treat, the show stars Damien Lorton as Santa Claus; Adriana Sanchez (“Evita”) returning in all her splendor as Mrs. Claus (AKA Agatha Frost); Hannah Clair (“Gypsy”) as her spicy sister, Cicely Frost; Shayna Gayer (“Gypsy”) as Cicely's assistant, Minion (AKA Marion); Brian Bolanos (“Guys and Dolls”) as the engaging Ernie, the Transportation Elf; and featuring a spot-on, Grinch-like rhyming narration by the silky-voiced Robert Edward.


Not to be over-looked are the incredible ensemble members of the cast, each nothing short of first-rate with their buoyant voices and nifty footwork. Their turn with Jerry Herman’s timeless “We Need A Little Christmas” will warm even the frostiest disposition, as will their vivacious kid favorite “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” They include Erika Baldwin, Hannah Clair, Peter Crisafulli, Lexi Cross, Tad Fujioka, Kady Lawson, Megan Michell, Hunter Nelson, Kalvin Sartin, Zachary Martinez, Matthew Rangel (u/s) and Fiona Wynder (u/s) as the Show Elves. Brynn Reid Kathryn Reid, Jordan Seto, Sydney Sublette and adorable second-grader Greer Smith are the very nimble Workshop Elves.


The celebration begins with a first act journey into the magical world of Christmas Fantasy Land, 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. Featuring well known standards and contemporary holiday classics that are sure to fill you with the spirit of the season. ”Sleigh Ride” is a superb chorale-piece featuring some fast and fancy dancing and prancing—compliments of Choreographers Angela Mattern, Kady Lawson, Shauna Bradford and Heather Holt Smith. Likewise, the team infuses “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with lots of clever comic capering, seguing into the more “Andrews Sisters” inspired “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm.” The act ends with the 1967 Stevie Wonder hit, “What Christmas Means to Me,” one of the Christmas season’s most celebrity-covered songs, as the group infuses some genuinely graceful moves onstage.


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 playfulness and joviality of the first act, things are slightly more refined and the audience is invited to sing along to such old favorites as “Oh, Come All Ye Faithful,” “Hark, The Herald Angels Sing,” “Carol Of The Bells” and “Joy to The World.”

Later, decked out in exquisite formality, the cast shows off their collective dexterity with “Oh, Holy Night,” “Do You Hear What I Hear,” “Christmas Waltz,” and the upbeat finale of Comden and Green’s bubbly “Be A Santa.”


Aiding immensely in making the magic happen is Wally Huntoon’s evocative sets—Santa’s Candy-Cane Colored Workshop, a snow-covered forest, an Olde English Village set adrift in time. Costume Coordinator Luis Cornejo’s costumes, along with Wardrobe Designer Rocco Zappa, also run the gamut from traditional Victorian garb to the ‘Holiday-Ornamental’ gaiety of Santa’s Elves (complete with red-and-green toe-curling footwear) to some chic 1940’s-era evening wear.


Directed and Musically Directed by Damien Lorton, “The Holiday GEM” is Co-Produced by both Nicole Cassesso and Damien Lorton. Musical Arrangements by Damien Lorton, Nicole Cassesso, Toni Helms, Kevin Homma, Adrian Rangel Sanchez and Randy Woltz; Sound Design by Dan Baird; Lighting Design by Jon Hyrkas; Wigs by Alan Collins; MakeUp Design by Brian Bolanos; Wardrobe Design by Rocco Zappa; Graphic Design by Robert Argueta. Musicians are Adrian Rangel Sanchez and Richard Abraham on piano, Jimmy Beall on Bass and Jeff Segal on Drums—all extraordinary!


Remember: Christmas is not a date - it's a state of mind! So, come see "The Holiday GEM" for a festively satisfying, endorphine-boosting, spirit-rousing good time filled with the joy of the holiday season, and make this Christmas one to remember. Located at 12852 Main Street in Garden Grove California, “The Holiday GEM” plays through December 19th, with tickets ranging from $35-50. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (714) 741-9550, or visit the website at www.onemoreproductions.com.


Chris Daniels

Arts & Entertainment Reviewer

The Show Report