The 99-Seat Beat: For holiday laughs and human kindness, head for L.A.'s small stages

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Not even a global pandemic has stopped the merry men of Santasia

by Steve Stanley

Not even a global pandemic has stopped the merry men of Santasia – A Holiday Comedy from putting on their 21st annual potpourri of wacky Benny Hill-like skits, SNL-ready videos, Broadway-parodying production numbers, nostalgic recollections of Christmases past, and Brandon Loeser in drag (rated R-for-language and H-for-heart).

No mere Zoom special this, producer/directors Brandon, Shaun, and Tania Loeser and associate producer Lon Gowan have put together a network TV-ready production guaranteed to satisfy friends and fans locked down at home and those who are getting their first taste of the Santasia magic starring Lon Gowan, Darren Mangler, Omar Heyward, Rusty Locke, Chey Kennedy, Brandon Loeser, and Shaun Loeser, and featuring Julie Dolan, Andrew J Hillis, Rich Warren, Bumbles, and Bill the Penguin.

And what a fabulous collection this year’s is, a mix of old favorites and new treats, beginning with a full-cast Zoomish take on The Lion King’s Circle Of Life featuring reindeer, wise men, and elves alike. Popular Claymation faves (San Andreas Snowman, Some Assembly Required, Pulp Christmas, Penguins Don’t Fly) are back to entertain and delight. Brandon appears as the angel Harold, harking to a pair of skeptical shepherds, Les Misérables gets transformed into Les MisérElves with a dueling Jack Frost and Santa standing in for Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert, CATS make way for reindeer for a snow-covered “Memory,” and a preteen boy informs Santa in no uncertain terms what it feels like to have your Christmas wish not come true to the accompaniment of Dido’s “Thank You.”

Santa spars with reindeer Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci to do Goodfellas proud (with a special appearance by Hermey The Elf), the Loeser brothers recreate the family tradition of decorating the family abode with a trademark penguin up on the rooftop, Jolly Old St. Nicholas takes over for Alexander Hamilton in a favorite Santasia boys Broadway spoof, and what would Santasia be without its grand-finale Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairies- meets-The William Tell Overture? A pair of PBS announcers are back to promote the latest Santasia -- A Holiday Comedy as only they can do, and so is each cast member’s favorite Christmas memory, each and every one of which is sure to provoke smiles and tears in equal measure. And best of all is Brandon Loeser’s pulchritudinous pair of pretty ladies, a tipsy lounge singer unable to forget the Frosty The Snowman who melted away and the loveliest of Bachelorettes getting ready to give the Bachelor of her dreams a single rose (actually a prequel to said lounge singer’s torch song).

Thank you Shaun Loeser for the invitation to this year’s show. You’ve got three more chances to order tickets for tonight, tomorrow, or Sunday. Just go to www.Santasia.com and tell them Steven sent you!

Santasia Review – Back and Better Than Ever

by Elaine Mura

Twenty-one years and still going strong, SANTASIA has been delighting Los Angeles audiences with a hilarious sketch comedy show that focuses on the Christmas season. But, wait. Will the pandemic stop SANTASIA from continuing its holiday tradition? Happily, online vimeo has come to the rescue; and SANTASIA will keep offering its uproarious take on the holidays despite COVID-19 roadblocks. The online show will be broadcast live on select dates to keep your funny bone vibrating with belly laughs.

Nothing is sacred to the SANTASIA crew, including the three wise men (well, only two this year), everybody’s beloved Italian Godfather (Bobbo Natale at his scariest), and the Bachelorette who just can’t make up her mind. Jolly Old St. Nicholas gets streamlined by Hamilton, Nutcracker ballerinas hop onto Lone Ranger’s horse, and Santa and Jack Frost meet Les Miserables. In Santasia’s world, pop made clothes and babies, and a single dad tattooed his kids’ drawings on his leg. It’s a topsy-turvy world that has kept audiences chuckling for over two decades.

It’s hard to believe that only seven performers offer so many glances, groans, and guffaws. Spearheaded by the Loeser brothers Brandon and Shaun – both producers, actors, and co-writers – the SANTASIA cast includes Lon Gowan (associate producer, actor, and co-writer), and actors Omar Heyward, Chey Kennedy, Rusty Locke, and Darren Mangler. When these fellows team up – watch out, for Santa’s coming to town. Santa’s sleigh may be a bumpy ride, but it’s sure a hoot.

In typical SANTASIA style, skits go from the ridiculous to the sublime. How does a toilet paper roll as a cherished holiday gift strike you? Or those 20 pages of easy instructions to guide Dad in building his son’s bike on Christmas Eve? What is most remarkable about this production is the flexibility, versatility, and technological sophistication of the SANTASIA cast and crew in taking their holiday journey online. Their special brand of nuttiness, glitches and all, translates into a vimeo holiday gift for all of us.

Santasia - A Holiday Comedy - NoHoArtsDistrict.com 2019

By Samantha Simmonds-Ronceros (@samronceros)

It’s now in its 19th year and we are thankful.  This extremely creative and dedicated group of actors takes us on yet another journey through their own very unique Christmas imaginations.  They entertain us with their delightfully warped and seasonally fueled stories, songs and glorious dance extravaganzas..

At its heart, it’s a sketch show with claymation and live action films created by brothers Shaun and Brandon Loeser liberally sprinkled through the evening, and some pretty elaborate dance numbers choreographed by Tania Pearson-Loeser.  We are entertained beautifully by this festively inclined group of actors with a brilliant selection of amusingly depraved and heartfelt seasonal laments and salutations. 

Over 25 sketches, songs and films full of manic and hilarious take offs and hauntingly familiar family fiascos.  But it’s really all about love - their love for Christmas, their love for each other and their love for giving us their own very funny version of what Christmas really means to them all.  One moment you are laughing and the next you are wiping a tear from your eye and remembering those who will be missed around the tree this year. 

"Santasia" is the kind of madcap show we should all go to every year if only to see what on earth they have come up with this time.  Make it your new tradition.  Bring your kids, bring your family and bring your friends, because everyone on stage seems to be just that important to each other.  What makes it work more than anything is the very apparent deep connection these men have for each other.  Through the dressing up and crazy dancing and singing you can feel it,  it’s what makes everything work so well, that obvious fondness for each other and the ability to support each other's ‘crazy.’

There are sketches about festive house decorating, dysfunctional dinners, heartfelt anecdotes from childhood, a brilliant trip on a runaway sleigh and classic and nimbly performed musical numbers with some serious dance sequences all exquisitely funny and in wonderfully inappropriate costumes… just fantastic!

If you go to any Christmas show this year, it really has to be "Santasia."

​Center on the Aisle - NY Off-Broadway

By Anne-Allegra Bennett (@aab_artiste)

As the city immerses itself in the holiday spirit while sporting festive decor and playing holiday songs around town, laughter rings out loud and strong at the St. Luke’s Theatre in the heart of Times Square. The cause of rib-busting hysterics is brought on by those suffering from severe cases of “Santasia.” A cause for celebration for over thirteen years (with annual performances in L.A.), Santasia: A Holiday Comedy has found its way to New York. It is bringing out the joy of the season as six performers embody characters of varying personalities in the style of sketches and Claymation movies that fit in with those one might see on shows such as “Saturday Night Live,” and the “Carol Burnett Show.” Filling the evening with moments that go from touching to hysterical, the skits cover the spectrum of what could happen over the holidays when celebrating with various types of families. From dysfunctional family moments to moving even those with the toughest exteriors, humorous and clever stories unfold. Running close to two hours in length, Santasia: A Holiday Comedy keeps the variety of skits going in a constant flow with barely any time for the performers to change into their next character as they embrace each person they are portraying. 

 

The skits are interspersed with creative and highly entertaining videos telling touching stories, as well as those that are parodies of popular commercials. All have the holiday spirit that comes as a part of the season, and which include the symptoms of “Santasia.” Very prominent during this time of year. Standout moments of the evening are the parodies “Santasia,” “Santasia Line,” and “Snow Block Tango.” Musical theater buffs will recognize these musical numbers as being derived from “Circle of Life” (The Lion King), “I Hope I Get It” (A Chorus Line), and “Cell Block Tango” (Chicago). Cleverly fitting holiday lyrics into the melodies of the popular showtunes, the six performers (Brandon Loeser, Shaun Loeser, James Elden, Lon Gowan, Chey Kennedy, and Richard Lee Warren) bring Tania Pearson-Loeser’s choreography to life as they tell their holiday adventures. The choreography compliments the stories of each of the characters, and brings out some of the best moments of the show. No performer is a star of the show, but they all work together as a well-balanced ensemble that showcases their various personalities and character types. Scene changes are mostly smooth transitions with video clips and Christmas music being played, but there are occasional moments where the transitions are a bit jarring as they aren’t able to move from one scene to the next seamlessly, and which pull away from the flow of the show. 

 

The majority of the show moves at a nice steady pace, but a few of the skits feel out of place and slow the show down, making it feel at times as though too many things are included. A show worth seeing for getting into the holiday spirit and enjoying what it has to offer, and a hit for avid fans of comedy skits. Very unique and creative stories performed with minimal sets and props, but full of imagination and creativity. The joy of the performers carries through from beginning to end, and the characters are brought to life with enthusiasm and passion.

 

Santasia: A Holiday Comedy is playing at St. Luke’s Theatre (308 West 46th Street) through December 23rd.

 

It was created by brothers Brandon and Shaun Loeser, and is directed/choreographed by Tania Pearson-Loeser. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.santasia.com. Because of some adult themes and strong language, it’s appropriate for children 13 and over.

 

Additional creative team members include Wynn Zucchero (lighting design), Stacey Quinealty (musical director), Brandon Loeser (technical director), Tania Pearson-Loeser (movement/choreography/costume designer), Nilton Emilio (stage manager) and Shaun Loeser (director).

Times Square Chronicles

NY Off-Broadway

Santasia Get Your Jolly On 

 

If you believe in flying penguins and the Virgin Mary then Santasia at St Luke’s Theatre is the show for you. Never before have the actors had more fun than the audience and that is saying a lot .Part SNL, Jerry Springer, Godfather, dysfunctional family, with a cast of Christmas characters and traditions all meshed together to make your side split. This show will have you laughing so hard you’ll be crying. Returning for the 16th year Santasia is music, dance, video, and humor along with some more serious sides of the season. Imagine six grown men who prance, dance, and sing while portraying three wise men in competition for gifts for the baby Jesus or as take care of your reindeer and get them spaded slides across the screen. My favorite skit was the Jerry Springer DNA test and the toilet roll stocking gift.

 

There are no Scrooge’s in this group of writers/comedians with a combined total of 24 years experience across the board in TV, film and theater.  Created by two in sync brothers, Brandon and Shaun Loeser, James Elden, Lon Gowan, Chey Kenedy, Rusty Locke, Richard Lee Warren and Thomas Vu all joined in. Shaun besides wearing an elf hat is the director and set designer. The entire team is also the producers of the show.

 

A special nod to Tania Pearson-Loeser for her excellent choreography. This show is 2 hours of fun and entertainment all wrapped up in a clever delightful way. We recommending taking the Santasia pill, but beware of the side effects…laughter. Santasia: St. Luke’s Theatre, 308 West 46th St.

nohoartsdistrict.com

by Gerie Rhosen

Last evening I had the most delightful and unexpected experience at the Whitefire Theater in Sherman Oaks. At the opening of their 16th year, the cast of Santasia:A Holiday Comedy tore the house apart. It is a mash up of holiday cheer and humor drizzled with warmth and memories.

Part musical, part silly, part inspired, this show is wonderful fun for the entire family. An unforgettable comedy-musical spoof of Christmas memories.

 

If you haven’t seen it before, as was my case, it definitely surprises the senses. The audience gets drawn into multiple skits that highlight the Christmas spirit with laughter and cheer. Thankfully, it is all done in such a great lively and unexpected way, everyone gets involved in the action. Enjoy the music, humor, and especially the heartfelt songs that bring up old memories of the holidays. Hopefully, this review will not give too much away; I think you should witness this one without any per-conceived ideas. It is honestly much different than any production I have seen before. 

 

The perfectly matched casts of six grown men prance, dance, and sing through all the very clever skits. For instance, three wise men in competition for gifts for the baby Jesus; or the usual dysfunctional family Christmas dinner including real devil egg appetizers eaten on stage. And of course all Christmas stories have to include elves. Only this one involves modern day political correctness as a theme. In-between the skits and above the stage is a giant screen that introduces us to several parodies of old movies and ads with its wonderful animated claymation. A few standouts such as “Pulp Christmas", and 'Brokeback Igloo", makes us roar. Thrown into the mix are sentimental holiday stories by each cast member. Some of the other highlights include a story about a little girl and her easy bake oven. It taps beautifully into our memories of Santa and our must have or die wishes. Part of the fun is the audience involvement as well. Go ahead, sing, yell, and laugh at the outrageous pratt falls and musical numbers in holiday drag. My favorite is the cast scantily clad in 2 piece showgirl outfits gyrating to a retro tune of “I’m a beautiful girl”. It is a hoot! The Santasia performers are a mix of actors, comedians and writers, with well over 25 years combined experience in film, television and stage.

 

Originally started in a small theater in North Hollywood, this show has blossomed into a full stage production full of penguins, snow, Christmas lights and sledding. These skits tickle the senses. This holiday delight was created by and stars two very talented brothers, Brandon and Shaun Loeser. Also contributing to this vivacious show are: James Elden, Lon Gowan, Chey Kennedy, Rusty Locke, and Richard Lee Warren. It is an ensemble of very smart and creative performers. Behind the scenes Shaun is the director, set designer, and co-writes the show with his brother and some of the cast. They are also the producers of the show. A special nod to the choreographer of this show, Tania Pearson-Loeser. This show is so good that it can be compared to the variety shows of yesterday such as; Carol Burnett or the Kids in the Hall. It is definitely more than 2 hours of silliness, it is clever, funny, and overall extremely entertaining.

 

Santasia is not just a winner for the Whitefire Theater, it is a winner for the audience as well. Bryan Rasmussen, the artistic director for the Whitefire is so wise to stage this production there. Too bad these actors can’t get together in summertime and do something just as outrageous and fun. After all, laughter and parody are very much needed at all times of the year. The staging is perfect. Set with many multicolored Christmas trees, a fireplace, and the front of a snow covered home, it feels like the holidays.

 

Hopefully there are tickets still available.

stageandcinema.com

by Tony Frankel

Sometimes in life, it’s the last Christmas present we open that makes up for all the lousy ones we unwrapped before. In what is truly the most dismal season of holiday-themed shows, I happened upon one on Christmas Eve which, unbeknownst to me, has been an annual event for 13 years. Santasia: A Holiday Comedy came to my attention from an Ovation voter who saw the Kids in the Hall-type, holiday-themed Vaudeville last year when this tender and irreverent entertainment was Ovation-nominated as Best Production of the Year.

Produced and created by siblings Shaun and Brandon Loeser,Santasia is a stocking stuffer of a show, 22 gifts in all: Dysfunctional family sketches, musical parodies ofThe Lion King and Chicago, skits (including a Nutcracker andWilliam Tell Overture sleigh-ride ballet), and more have attracted a loyal fan base that has the show selling out every night (returnees will always see something new). Does it sound crazy that I knew I was in for something special when I was greeted by snowfall in front of the theater? Inside the lobby, it was as if a party was in full swing, with hot apple cider and yummy homemade cookies working their way around the cramped space. 

 

The co-performers and -writers along with the Loesers are James Elden, Andrew J. Hillis, Lon Gowan, and Rusty Locke; and while their alumni status with Second City, Comedy Sportz, and iO (formerly known as “ImprovOlympic”) certainly shows in the slick and silly skits, the event was so unpretentious that I couldn’t shake the feeling of nostalgia, as if I was home with family celebrating the holidays. The icing on the sugar cookie was a series of remembrances from each of the cast that actually had me choking up; it’s clear that this elfish crew really want to celebrate the holidays with joy. The press release is spot-on when the show is proclaimed as a “perfect blend of yuletide snark and sentiment.” It also doesn’t hurt that, unlike the atrocious Twist Your Dickens by Second City, these guys never beat a dead horse with their comedy: A sketch involving the Virgin Mary on Jerry Springer wisely ended with us wanting more. The cast also featured Art Oden.

 

Leitmotifs of Easy-Bake Ovens, discontented elves, a penguin, and an Abominable Snow Monster are spread not just through the sketches but in highly polished films. The live-action and animated shorts are beyond impressive: 

 

“Brokeback Igloo” is a parody done “Coming Attraction”-style about a pair of men who escape to the mountains to make toys…and love; while the premise is humorous, it is actually quite moving in its earnestness. An homage to stop-motion Rankin/Bass “Animagic”* can be seen in a few shorts, but “Pulp Christmas” (directed and animated by Michael Granberry), which is about – you guessed it – two of Santa’s hit-elves, is not only funny, but disturbing.

 

Shaun Loeser’s scenic design is keenly in reverence to the imposing decorations he remembers from his childhood, and Dave Watson must have had a ball stringing up all of those lights. Tania Pearson-Loeser did double-duty by not only stitching together a slew of preposterous outfits, but doling out some delightful and wholly original choreography.

My only quibble is that Shaun Loeser, as director, didn’t keep his cast (including himself) from screaming for comic effect – there’s a fine line between a misbehaving child and volume that makes your teeth chatter. Also, since the show clocks in at almost two hours, the very nature of sketch comedy demands a break (plus, I was dying for more of those cookies).

It’s a relief to know that I don’t have to buy a plane ticket to see family next year – I just have to drive to Sherman Oaks.

NoHo Arts District / BroadwayWorld.com

by Don Grigware 

This is my fifth visit to Santasia, my first time seeing it @ the Whitefire, and I must admit within six years the show has gotten tighter and better, without losing a morsel of its unique comedic charm. Brothers Shaun and Brandon Loeser and four other actors: Andrew J. Hillis, James Elden, Lon Gowan, and Art Oden sing, dance, act and fool around as chums tend to do in a nonstop, side-splitting bevy of sketches not unlike those of Saturday Night Live, where good old silliness reigns supreme. 

 

Variety is at the core of the show, and the highlights include not only the sketches, but musical numbers too - and some surprises. Each of the actors presents a favorite Christmas memory. Hillis' involves his dad always picking out a sparse Charlie Brown Christmas tree, which with large decorations in strategic places and a lot of love, became the best of the crop. Shaun Loeser's is a bit more dramatic about an extra-special father/son relationship filled with arguments and love. There are infectiously funny chorus numbers with all six guys parodying A Chorus Line, Chicago and The Full Monty - with toys on the kids' and elves' minds - nicely choreographed by Tania Pearson-Loeser. Then there are an abundance of off-the-wall comic sketches like the one involving three contemporary wise men appraising their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, or the one about a dysfunctional family Christmas dinner, or reluctantly putting up the Christmas lights on the roof to please dear old dad, Santa's workshop run Mafia style, and my favorite of all, Sledding, about a disastrous bob sled ride down a snow-covered mountain. 

 

Interspersed with the live scenarios and musical numbers are priceless short film segments - even a commercial or two - with some pretty great claymation including Pulp Christmas, San Andreas Snowman and Penguins Don't Fly. That little plastic penguin on top of the Loeser kids' roof in Chicago has become over the years the standout character - practically their mascot - in this delightfully hilarious and clean family show. There are several scenes with some of the men in drag, but all for fun - and in the best of taste. Brandon Loeser's little sister Chrissy and the quietly seductive piano barfly come immediately to mind here - a hoot! My love for Santasia is undiminished after eleven years. It's a cult hit for its legions of fans. So, if you haven't joined that list yet, hurry and get to the Whitefire between now and Christmas Eve. Buy tix now as they are selling out fast!

SoCal.com

by Jennifer Fordyce 

Santasia is a non-stop series of comedic holiday skits in the likes of Saturday Night Live and  The Kids in the Hall and is not only recommended but required to official kick-off the sugar-filled bliss of the holiday season. For almost 10 years now, Santasia continues to revamp the classics of the holiday season from Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer to the Abominable Snowman into a multimedia production that drives Los Angeles theatre patrons into a fit of laughter while evoking memories from childhood and the angst of believing in a fat guy in a red suit that may or may not leave you a gift on Christmas day.

The smell of home-baked cookies floods your senses as the sight of a luminescent snow-covered house in holiday décor beckons you inside the theatre. What follows can only be described as a wild comical cocktail mix of holiday madness made of 1 part classic holiday nostalgia, 1 part holiday mockery of popular movies and television series and 6 guys willing to bare it all (well, almost) all in the name of good ol’ holiday cheer. 

 

Director and Actor Shaun Loeser, along with his talented and energetic cast including James Elden, Lon Gowan, Andrew J. Hillis, Brandon Loeser and Art Oden, give a mesmerizing and hilarious performance as they morph from being thug reindeer to rap-dancing elves to telling their own true holiday memories.

 

Classic mix of holiday tunes and hip-hop grooves along with Tania L. Peason-Loeser’s choreography magically transform the cast of Santasia into dancing syncopated holiday drag queens, toboggan riders being catapulted through the air and Nutcracker-inspired tutu wearing ballerinas. The live theatrical performances of Santasia are interspersed with animator Michael Granberry/Red Hatchet Film’s hysterical spoofs including “Pulp Christmas”, “The Kringles” and “Brokeback Igloo”, written by Shaun Loeser.

 

By the end, Santasia leaves you with a warm fuzzy feeling that makes you remember what the holidays is all about – loving the people you are with and not caring that much that Susie got the Easy Bake Oven and you didn’t.

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