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SANTASIA EPISODE V—A HOLIDAY COMEDY

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It may not be A Christmas Carol, but Santasia, now in its fifth year, has staked its claim for one of NoHo's annual theatrical traditions. And while this sketch comedy, presented by capable Chicago and Los Angeles improv veterans, isn't Charles Dickens, it is a funny and intelligent holiday romp. Directed by Shaun Loeser, who appears in the cast of eight with his brother Brandon, this music- and parody-filled 90-minute production succeeds because the pacing is sharp, the sketches are short, there are several outstanding video segments, and there is a genuinely warm atmosphere onstage. There are probably too many sketches—almost 30 in total—but the few weak ones are easily overshadowed by a bounty of hilarity.

The mix of new segments and pieces from previous productions begins with a parody of the opening song in The Lion King, as the residents of the North Pole sing a greeting to Santa. The series of projected video pieces includes a multipart takeoff of The Empire Strikes Back, in which editor David Mattey skillfully has placed two elves smack into the middle of the scene in which Luke Skywalker battles a snow monster. The parodies are the strong suit of Santasia, the funniest being "Pulp Christmas." Michael Alvarado and R.C. Ormond, who are spot-on as John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson, re-enact scenes from Pulp Fiction, as they retrieve a red sack for their boss, Mr. Claus. Interspersed with the outrageous bits are heartfelt monologues about each performer's favorite Christmas memory. And the finale, a wild sled ride set to the "William Tell Overture," is as creative as it is humorous.

Shaun Loeser keeps his cast from the type of hammy acting that tends to sabotage sketch comedy. His set design—a house with gaudy decorations and a comfy living room—is impressive, given how small the stage is. Loeser is ably assisted by the simple but effective choreography created by Tania L. Pearson-Loeser. This is a cast clearly having fun, and fortunately it's contagious. Let's hope there's an episode VI next year.

"Santasia Episode V—A Holiday Comedy," presented by A Loser's Kid Productions at the Whitmore-Lindley Theatre, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 & 7 p.m. Nov. 27-Dec. 26. $15. (818) 907-7242.

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