The Christmas season is here whether you like it or not. But a quick trip to the Gaslight Theatre’s newest holiday show of “The Secret Santa” will ensure you are, indeed, excited about the frosty season.
“The Secret Santa,” written by Gaslight constant Peter Van Slyke, is a simple holiday show. And there’s nothing wrong with that. The plot centers on the snowy town of Merryville, just a few days before Christmas. But it seems the magical day might be cancelled in the future, as the local toy factory considers switching from manufacturing holiday cheer to industrial equipment.
Who’s going to save the day? Who other than St. Nick in disguise, of course.
The straightforward plot allows Gaslight’s actors plenty of room for puns and wacky situations. Every character is in some way over the top, whether it be the bumbling handyman Buster (Todd Thompson), the whimsical elf Holly (Janée Page), or the nervous toy factory assistant Franklin (Jake Chapman).
But the real stars of the show are the conniving businessmen Barkley Simpson and C.C. Cogsworth (Mike Yarema and Jacob Brown). While their characters are as simple as “I hate Christmas!” the charm comes from Yarema and Brown’s cartoonish villainy that is enough to stir the crowd into hisses and boos, which they revel in, of course.
Easily the most eye-catching aspect of The Secret Santa is the Gaslight crew’s awesome set design. The Cogsworth toy factory looks taken straight out of a child’s imagination: giant spinning gears, conveyor belts and automatic present-wrapping machines all in attendance. Santa’s sleigh is also a treat. It raises and lowers as Santa and his elf assistant fly, and ultimately crash, into Merryville.
The show’s standout moment has to be a high-stakes sleigh race through the snowy mountains. Through stage tricks, the scene contains a real sense of movement, which makes the characters dodging obstacles and racing neck-and-neck even more exciting. Even in a show with sing-alongs, the crowd never got louder than during the race and subsequent visual gag.
A Gaslight Theatre show wouldn’t be complete without musical numbers, and The Secret Santa contains plenty. The songs are a mix of new and classic Christmas songs, and the actors and live Gaslight Band work together well. The musical direction by Linda Ackermann and choreography by Katherine Byrnes made for solid, catchy performances all around.
The whole show, less than an hour and a half in total, is a simple and tight package that hits all the points of Christmas, and is reminiscent of multiple familiar tales: the wicked materialism of “A Christmas Carol,” Santa crashing his sleigh into a park in “Elf,” the toy factory hierarchy in 1964’s “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and many more.
Simply put, The Secret Santa succeeds as a show because, as a whole, it embraces the childlike wonder Christmas represents, and that’s more than any set piece, one-liner, frilly costume, or outrageous character can do on their own.
Of course, it would be simple, if not expected, to say The Secret Santa is obligatorily “fun for the whole family.” But even that might not cover enough ground. While it certainly is acceptable for audiences of all ages, it might be more fitting to say The Secret Santa is fun for anyone willing to embrace the timeless, giddy pleasance of Christmas.
The Secret Santa plays daily at the Gaslight Theatre through Sunday, Jan. 5. $24 for adults, $22 for students/seniors/military/first responders, and $14 for children 2-12. 7010 E. Broadway Blvd. Reservations required. For more information, visit thegaslighttheatre.com