“Almost,” which means “not quite” or “nearly,” is an operative word in describing “The Year Christmas Was Almost Cancelled.”
It’s a holiday musical, which opened last night (Dec. 3) at Mamiya Theatre at St. Louis School/Chaminade College, and runs Fridays through Sundays through Dec. 18 as the lone family-friendly theatrical show in Honolulu this Christmas.
It is the premiere endeavor for Mo‘olelo Studios, and it’s almost certainly won’t be its last.
Adoringly written and directed by Kyle Kakuno with a delightful and charming score by Roslyn Catracchia, they also collaborated on the lyrics for the 10 assembled songs.
It’s a big little show, brimming with goodwill and tidings of the season, with potential to prevail as a future or returnee. It’s almost but not quite perfect.
The threat of a no-Christmas agenda emerges when Santa Claus (Matthew Pedersen, delightful with a commanding presence) discovers that he is ill and “burned out,” because of the pace and stress of the yuletide. Mrs. Claus (Callie Doan, comforting and forthright) summons a doctor (Jantzen Shinmoto) to assess the wellness of the man in the red suit. The analysis: Santa needs three months off to rest and recuperate, meaning there could be no Christmas just days ahead.
This is where the “almost” comes in. Santa’s workshop is filled with elves young and older, all concerned about the jolly one’s health and the dilemma of skipping Christmas. These elves are effusive, almost always singing and dancing with good cheer. There almost seems to be a scene missing, where elves help Santa with toy-making to fill his bag for delivery. The production lacks that holidaze hustle-and-bustle within the workshop.
Not that the elves aren’t helping Santa. They make hot chocolate and bake gingerbread cookies, like a kitchen squad, supported by theme-specific tunes, “There’s Something About Hot Chocolate” and “Gingerbread Cookies.”
Can’t argue about the singing; the cast boasts expressive, impressive voices that underscore the excitement about providing nourishment for ill Santa. While Alexandria Zinov’s choreography is brisk and fills the stage, it doesn’t jingle with the Christmas spirit.
The ranks are filled with sweet and lively elves, with fairy tale names like Shinny (Poasa Aga), Gander (Christopher Casupang), Bushy (Samuel Tafolo), Alabaster (Sanoe Harris), Pepper (Isaiah Castillo), Wunorse (La Faamausili-Siliato) and Sugarplum (Ka‘iulani Iaea), with their nationalities clearly reflecting diverse casting.
Catracchia’s songs like “I Believe in You” (sung by Iaea and Casupang) and “Christmas Magic” (rendered by Harris and Faamausili-Siliato and the elves) properly uphold the season’s messages and tidings. The merriment is perfect, not almost.
As the Narrator, Isaac Kapono Chock shares a welcoming spirit and presence, from his perch next to a Letters-to-Santa mailbox.
Now here’s a minor quibble, almost like a half-cup full, half-cup empty matter on whether Christmas is cancelled or not. It depends on where you are in the world– in Santa’s onstage workshop home or elsewhere around the world.
The bottom-line theme — that wellness and good health are equally important in your life — resonates with a feel-good aura. Almost makes you want to sing your favorite Christmas carol.
Hearty kudos to the production team. There’s periodic snow falling in the show, and Santa gets aboard his red sleigh (looks like Rudolph’s on sick leave) and the sleigh takes flight as the curtain falls. And that handy-dandy playbill listing cast and credits, is joyful and triumphant, a keepsake for the cast ensemble for years to come. The producers do everything right here.
Tip: After you exit, kids may take photos with Santa in the theater lobby; outside in the courtyard, there’s a free snowflake light show (nighttime) and more faux snow, plus hot cocoa with marshmallows (yummy!), gingerbread cookies and s’mores kits for purchase, for a merry show extra.
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“The Year Christmas Was Almost Cancelled”
Showtimes: 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 6 p.m. Sundays, through Dec. 18.
Tickets: $20 for adults, $15 for students, at www.moolelostudios.com
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And that’s Show Biz. …