Tinsel and Tunes

Ocala Civic Theatre’s Christmas cabaret features holiday hits and goodies galore.

Home » Arts & Entertainment
Posted December 8, 2023 | By Lisa McGinnes

Whether or not you’ll be home for Christmas, even the Grinchiest among us is sure to find some festive feelings at “Tinseltunes: A Holidazzled Cabaret.”

Ocala Civic Theatre’s (OCT) new family-friendly musical is merry and bright, with an exuberant cast of 11 teens taking the audience on a sentimental journey through swinging holiday standards, family favorites and modern showstoppers. The audience will enjoy an exclusive experience, seated at round tables on the stage, and tickets include an array of holiday treats such as gingerbread cookies, chocolates, Smallcakes cupcakes and hot cocoa. 

“Christmas is a season of nostalgia,” said Jessica Mongerio, who co-directs the show with Jason Bartosic. “You think of a show like this and you’re taking them on an emotional ride. So there’s something fun, and then we bring it back down to something contemplative and then bring them back up.”

The song list spans decades of holiday favorites, from standards including “White Christmas” and “Winter Wonderland” to the cartoon classic “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” The young singers, age 13-17, shine brightly in modern numbers “Sparklejollytwinklejingley” and “Never Fall in Love With an Elf” from the 2010 Broadway musical “Elf.”

The cast isn’t old enough to remember the popular variety TV shows of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, but their costumes, in shades of red and green punctuated by pops of plaid, were inspired by “The Lawrence Welk Show” holiday specials, according to OCT Costume Designer Amanda Jones. She called the sweater vests, brightly colored pants, scarves and midi skirts “very classic” and “super Christmassy.”

“I was given the inspiration by Greg Thompson, OCT executive and artistic director,” Jones said. “And I started realizing how much these variety show Christmas specials have that vintage feel to them. I really love the vintage look, especially around Christmastime.”

Cast members Estella Cavalier, Valynn Flaherty, Terryn Ginder, Suriana Im, Hunter Leary, Aaron Lowe, Maren Miller, Kaitlyn Nast, Harlem Nation, Jalis Redmond and Maiyah Smith have been rehearsing since October in this collaboration between the Academy at OCT and the Brick City Cabaret Company.

“We wanted to incorporate some cabaret classes and hope to do some for adults as well,” Thompson said. “It’s a way for them to get a chance to sing more, to build their musical skills and also their performance skills. This style of performance is very different than doing a musical, and giving them opportunities to do different styles of performance is really important to us.”

“Tinseltunes” has been a fun, new experience for the cast, said 17-year-old Hunter Leary, who also is involved with musical theater at Forest High School.

“It’s not often that students get to perform cabaret style,” he said, “and I love to sing Christmas music!”

Maren Miller, also a 17-year-old student at Forest, agreed.

“It’s really nice to be able to have an experience outside of the high school setting where we can grow and learn together with a bunch of people who also enjoy this art form,” she said. “We’ve done school cabarets in the past but nothing to this extent—the costuming and being in the theater with the sound and mics and everything we don’t normally get to experience.”

Mongerio, the director of choral activities at Forest High School, and Bartosic, who serves as OCT’s resident music director, have been involved with Brick City Cabaret Company since its inception in 2006 and are the co-artistic directors for the company. Mongerio said they were excited to introduce youth to cabaret.

“Cabaret is a storytelling art form,” she said. “At school, we sing in choirs, and I teach musical theater. But a lot of times, you have to show up as yourself as a performer. This requires them to step more into the spotlight in a more intimate venue. It’s sort of acting songs and really having to take that on themselves without a set, without a lot of props.” 

“Tinseltunes: A Holidazzled Cabaret” is live on stage Dec. 9-10 at Ocala Civic Theatre, 4337 E. Silver Springs Blvd. For tickets and more information, visit ocalacivictheatre.com or call (352) 236-2274. The cast also will present two shortened performances at Ocala Main Street’s First Night celebration on Dec. 31 at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. at IHMC, 15 SE Osceola Ave.

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