Registered Critic: Thomas deMartino

Theater critic for The Orange County Tribune. Film enthusiast and recovering comic book collector, engaging in snarky commentary and punditry. Spends free time video gaming and competitive light saber fighting. Yes, seriously.
Oct

Bright Star

The One More Productions troupe at the Gem Theater is renowned for much of their work, often staging classic and well-beloved musicals: but now and again, they take a chance on something new and relatively unknown, to share with a wider audience. Unfortunately, that can translate into empty seats, as the public is hesitant to take a chance on an unfamiliar show.
This, however, is one to take that chance on.
Written by comedic legend (and local boy) Steve Martin and singer/songwriter Edie Brickell, and directed by Damien Lorton, "Bright Star" is a beautiful and uplifting production, with a special charm and authenticity. Whether familiar with bluegrass music or not, viewers won't be able to help tapping their feet or clapping their hands to some of the rousing numbers, courtesy of the phenomenal work of the band (making use of such diverse instruments as fiddle, mandolin, banjo and standing bass.)
There are a number of both touching and moving musical numbers, including the aforementioned "She's Gone", "I Had A Vision", "So Familiar" and "If You Knew My Story" (the show's opener); with a gripping story that pulls the viewer in, capturing a true spirit of Americana; and a fascinating juxtaposition between two parallel love stories in two separate eras.
Stand-out performances abound -- there's Nick Seigel as the young Alice's devoted beau Jimmy (with a stellar performance of "Heartbreaker"); Kelly Rosales as Margo, acting as the sounding board for Billy and his writing, but longing for him to recognize her as more than just the girl he grew up with; and Brandon Taylor Jones as Billy, a young man trying to find his place in the world -- pursuing his dreams, wherever they may lead.
Particular note should be made of Ryan Addison as Mayor Dobbs: a powerful, imposing presence, both in his singing and his depth of character; while it may be simpler to attribute his overbearing manner and actions to a flawed persona, Addison offers a brief, strangely sympathetic glimpse into his motivations.
But as one might expect, Nicole Cassesso continues to remain the scintillating jewel in the Gem's crown.
She has already clearly established her considerable skills with the country genre in the Gem Theater fan-favorite "Always, Patsy Cline": now, in "Bright Star", Cassesso once again demonstrates her remarkable vocal range -- this time, in the Bluegrass style -- as well as her ability to offer the viewer an intense, soulful interpretation of character.
In her portrayal of Alice -- both as young and vivacious, as well as older, more restrained, even haunted -- we see an organic, determined progression of character; as she strives to transcend her life's tragedies and challenges, as best she can.
"Bright Star" is bold, fresh, and that "something new" that so many might clamor for; and for those who might feel unsure about an unfamiliar musical, that's not one of the standard classics -- this is the show worth taking your chance on.

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May

Nine

One More Productions is celebrating its 15th year, and this showing features some of the finest actresses who have graced the Gem Theater stage in those years, coming together for a spectacle unlike any other: a story of ego and art; love and lust; of devotion, of obsession… of madness.

There's so much to unpack in this story, so many themes to leave the viewer mulling over at its conclusion: what women represent to men — their flesh-and-blood reality and needs, as opposed to the idealized pillar upon which they are frequently shackled; the nature of art, and the price of its creation upon its creator – the sacrifice the artist must make of themselves for it; how childhood events often shape… even concrete… our worldview for years to come, if not the entirety of our lives; and how culture can influence our perspective of sexuality and identity.

The 22-piece orchestra, in tandem with the stunning vocal prowess of the nearly two dozen women of the cast, create a haunting, yet energetic and breathtaking atmosphere. The opening number itself (“Overture”) sets the mood, with the entirety of the ladies singing in sonorous unison, as they surround the director, reflecting degrees of the real women of his life and his conception of them:
"I am not a child!” he stubbornly asserts, “I am a mature –” His protests are drowned out by the raucous laughter of the ensemble.

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Mar

Disaster! The Musical

"It's something very new and very different from the award-winning One More Productions team of Damian Lorton, Nicole Cassesso and company at Garden Grove's Gem Theater, in the form of "Disaster! The Musical": a jukebox musical homage to the myriad disaster movies of the 70's... just what 70's fans have wanted in a jukebox musical -- well, those who remember the 70's, anyway. It's chock-full of 1970's classic hits, delivered with perfect timing and pace to suit the scenes; with marvelous performances by the whole cast."
"...It's a perfect comedic cocktail of catastrophe, just waiting to be shaken..."

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Oct

The Producers

Every single player, from Harper's comic Nazi sympathizer-turned-spirited playwright Franz, to Perry's playful, seductive, yet vaguely innocent Ulla, to Edward and Crisafulli's precocious De Bris and Ghia — whose characters could be over-the-top caricature, yet come across as lovely, engaging, and passionate about their art – inhabit and breathe comic authenticity into their roles … But it's Bodrero and Lorton who truly knock it out of the park. Bodrero's Leo Bloom has vague shades of his recent neurotic “Bullets” scribe, but is considerably more fully realized — with his errant dreams of being a Broadway producer that his new friend and partner inspires him to grab and make his own. Tunes like “I Wanna Be A Producer.” “We Can Do It” and “That Face” showcase both his acting and considerable vocal talents. Lorton though … absolutely owns the role of Max Bialystock. After seeing this show, some audience members might ask themselves why they so rarely see him upon the stage, versus behind the scenes as director of so many of the Gem's productions. His comic timing and pacing is sublime, the breaking of the fourth wall and periodic meta references are inspired (somebody get that man a cocktail!) and his song-and-dance is on par with any player whom audiences have seen strut across that stage. It's a masterpiece of slapstick and satire, with phenomenal staging and performances by some of the best actors that the Gem has to offer. If there is a must-see in this 2018 season from One More Productions, “The Producers” is indubitably the one to watch.

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Jul

Hello, Dolly!

There is much to both marvel at, and revel in, with this production: the ornate, lavish and detailed costuming is a virtual feast for the eyes, and the dance numbers are a spectacle of color, energy and poise (“The Waiters' Gallop” in Act II is a particular show-stopper, with Jon Michell stealing scenes as the manic-yet-charming head waiter Rudolph.) But the sonorous music brought to life by the skills of the performers (including the unseen, indispensable live orchestra) is the true wonder. Baldwin's stunning vocal skills shine in the tune, “Ribbons Down My Back”; Klega and company charm with the not-quite PC ditty, “It Takes A Woman” (a distinct throwback to a time before women's suffrage); and Curtis-Switzer is marvelous and melodious as Cornelius, with a beautiful rendition of “It Only Takes A Moment” with Baldwin, as well as in “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” with Wayne, Crisafulli, Gomez, and the remarkable ensemble. Without question, though, the scintillating star of the show is Adriana Sanchez, portraying the titular Dolly. Patrons may recognize her from other productions at the Gem, such as last year's “Follies”, and the quite popular annual “Holiday Gem” (portraying the bombastic Mrs. Claus): but it is doubtless that she brings all her talents to bear in “Dolly.” Not only does she breathe life into classics such as “I Put My Hand In” and “Hello, Dolly”, but her love for the character and passion for the role of a determined woman finding her path through helping others – sometimes whether they like it or not — makes Dolly a lovable, charming and endearing persona… someone, perhaps, even to aspire to.

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Feb

Bullets Over Broadway

While certainly not for children, adult audiences will thrill at this nostalgic throwback to yesteryear, and the showbiz shenanigans surrounding a writer who just wants to be true to his art, as well as the chorus-girl who will help turn his dream into a perfectly beautiful and comedic nightmare.

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Feb

Cabaret

An incredible, dazzling experience, "Cabaret" at the Gem Theater in Garden Grove is not to be missed, an actual must-see: and with limited seating available at the Kit Kat Klub, is one to get your reservations for now.

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Dec

The Holiday Gem

Without a doubt, this is one of the best productions of “The Holiday Gem” in recent years.

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