Review: ‘Oy!’ is a joy! The world premiere of Oy! To The World ~ Christmas with a Twist! an instant classic at the El Portal Theatre

Destine to take its place in the pantheon of holiday classics is ‘Oy! To The World ~ Christmas with a Twist!’  The show is bursting with beloved Christmas songs that have shaped our modern holiday celebrations. And all of the iconic tunes showcased were written by Jewish songwriters. That’s the marvelous twist to the great new musical, and that’s what makes ‘Oy!’ such a joy.

‘Oy To The World ~ Christmas with a Twist!’ cast from left: Kelley Dorney, Tonoccus McClain, Yamuna Meleth, Jay Brian Winnick (photo by Margie Barron)

  ‘Oy! To The World ~ Christmas with a Twist!’  made its world premiere at the historic El Portal Theatre’s Monroe Forum on December 14, 2023, and runs through December 23, 2023. It is skillfully written by Gregory Thirloway and Maurice Godin, directed by Maurice Godin, choreographed by Jeffrey Polk, with musical direction by the renown Gerald Sternbach.

‘Oy To The World ~ Christmas with a Twist!’ Yamuna Meleth, Tonoccus McClain, Kelley Dorney (photo by Margie Barron)

  Kelley Dorney, Tonoccus McClain, Yamuna Meleth and Jay Brian Winnick star in a wonderful story, conceived by Gregory Thirloway, which has the performers gathering at an old Catskills resort to put on a show. They combine their talents beautifully singing more than two dozen Christmas songs, sharing diverse holiday memories, and telling the interesting stories behind the tunes and songwriters. All have multiple big ‘wow’ moments.

 Winnick plays Shelly, who brings his talented friends together at his bubbe’s lodge for the show plus a little education about the Jewish songwriters. Irving Berlin would be kvelling if he heard his “White Christmas” lyrics lovingly sung in Yiddish by Winnick. Also a comedy force of nature, Winnick delivers Catskills’ punch lines fast and funny, just like his entertaining “Sleigh Ride” and “We Need A Little Christmas” numbers.

  As Marcus, Tonoccus McClain showed off his knack for connecting with the audience. His versatility was also notable with his super-cool “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” playful “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” and projecting a solemn and sacred mood for “O Holy Night” that was a showstopper. 

  Yamuna Meleth plays Becky, who puts a multicultural spin on the holidays, especially with her sensational Bollywood version of “My Favorite Things.” Other highlights were her humorous role reversal version of “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” and giving profound depth to “Do You Hear What I Hear?”

 Playing Joy, a sort of Hallmark movie character, Kelley Dorney was perfection with her magnificent voice and commanding stage presence. She gave the audience goosebumps with “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” And when she sang “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” based on a 1863 Longfellow poem pleading for peace during the Civil War, many in the audience were blinking back tears. Jewish composer Johnny Marks put that poem to music.

Gerald Sternbach in ‘Oy To The World ~ Christmas with a Twist!’

In addition to Gerald Sternbach doing a masterful job as musical arranger, he also has the role as Chris, the piano playing spirit that haunts the resort and inspires the singers. It was a treat to see Sternbach steal the spotlight singing “Hanukkah In Santa Monica.” All the performers are feeling the spirit of the season as they end the show with the Mel Tormé classic “The Christmas Song,” and they let everyone know it is truly “The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year.”

Gregory Thirloway and Maurice Godin had a great vision for this show and made it special with a mix of performers woven together in an impressive narrative, with singing, dancing, humor, and heart-tugging moments. It all works beautifully. The cavalcade of Christmas hits and stories are ultra-entertaining under Godin’s direction. And Jeffrey Polk’s choreography adds extra energy to every number. Also worthy of praise: Shon LeBlanc costume design, Marcia Dios set dresser, Fiona Jessup lighting design, Juliet Park stage manager, Darby Symons associate producer, and Pegge Forrest producer.

‘Oy To The World ~ Christmas with a Twist!’ cast Kelley Dorney, Yamuna Meleth, Jay Brian Winnick, Tonoccus McClain (photo by Margie Barron)

  Oy! To The World ~ Christmas With A Twist! is 90 minutes with no intermission, with 10 holiday performances from December 14 to 23, 2023. In the Monroe Forum at the historic El Portal Theatre, located at 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, California, in the NoHo Arts District.

  For tickets call 818-508-4200 or go to

Margie Barron has written for a wide variety of outlets including Gannett newspapers, Nickelodeon, Tiger Beat and 16 Magazine, Fresh!, Senior Life, Production Update, airline magazines, etc. Margie is also proud to have been half of the husband & wife writing team Frank & Margie Barron, who had written together for various entertainment and travel publications for more than 38 years.