East Van Panto: Wizard of Oz proves there’s no place like home; plus, our guide to seasonal shows, from nostalgic movie sendups to duelling Nutcrackers
Yes, nostalgia packs the calendar this year—think odes to Jane Austen and a musical trip into George Bailey’s wonderful life. But those averse to sentiment have options too: check out this city’s newer, less treacly traditions, from a solstice concert to a gritty resetting of A Christmas Carol in the Downtown Eastside. Below, some of the seasonal highlights.
MISS BENNET: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY (At the Granville Island Stage to December 30) Attention, Jane Austen fans: Miss Bennet is a modern sequel to Pride and Prejudice. In it, Lizzy and Darcy host an unexpected visitor for a family get-together, and he may hold out romantic hope for bookworm sister Mary. Kate Dion-richard plays Mary, and Roy Surette directs. HOLIDAY VIBE: Georgian England and Regency charm.
MERRY KISS-MAS (At the Improv Centre to December 24) Vancouver Theatresports League leaves the Christmas Queen behind to launch a new seasonal tradition. Using all their improv skills, the cast send up every romantic holiday movie you’ve ever sipped eggnog to. HOLIDAY VIBE: Miracle on 34th Street meets Love Actually.
CHEZ NOUS: CHRISTMAS WITH ELEKTRA (At Shaughnessy Heights United Church on November 24 and Surrey’s Good Shepherd Church on November 25) Famed B.C. tenor Ben Heppner brings his legendary voice to the city’s premier women’s choir, with a program spanning traditional carols from a range of cultures. HOLIDAY VIBE: Heavenly voices with added star power.
A CHARLIE BROWN HOLIDAY DOUBLE BILL (At the Waterfront Theatre from November 25 to December 30) Carousel Theatre for Young People doubles the fun with both A Charlie Brown Christmas and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown hitting the stage. Andrew Cownden dons the iconic yellow-and-black shirt to take on the role of Peanuts’ lovable loser. HOLIDAY VIBE: Snoopy dancing and the world’s most droopy-butadorable Christmas tree.
EAST VAN PANTO:WIZARD OF OZ (At the York Theatre from November 28 to January 6, 2019) Expect everything from controversial pipelines to cannabis shops to pop up as Dorothy and the gang land in the magical East Side of Vancouver. Theatre Replacement’s twisted tradition returns for a sixth year, with playwright Marcus Youssef scripting the fun for the first time. HOLIDAY VIBE: British holiday tradition warped through the lens of modern-day East Van.
DISNEY’S BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (At the Stanley Industrial Alliance Theatre from December 1 to January 6, 2019) The Arts Club brings back its beloved holiday musical, with its Broadway-lavish sets and costumes, all under the direction of Bill Millerd. Watch for Michelle Bardach as Belle and Jonathan Winsby as Beast, as well as a live six-piece band. HOLIDAY VIBE: Kids breaking out their Sunday best in the Stanley’s historic digs. CHRISTMAS WITH THE BACH CHOIR (At the Orpheum on December
2) The VBC gathers eight choirs to join it in song. We’re talking 400 voices, plus an organ and the Touch of Brass ensemble, bringing to life traditional favourites and newer works. Highlights include the debut of the winner of its seasonal composition contest and the children’s choirs performing a transcendent “Ave Maria”. HOLIDAY VIBE: Hark! The herald angels sing.
LITTLE DICKENS: THE DAISY THEATRE (At the Cultch Historic Theatre from December 4 to 22) Marionette master Ronnie Burkett pulls the strings for one of the quirkiest offerings on the holiday calendar. Aimed at adults only, the show finds the cast of Burkett’s popular The Daisy Theatre taking on A Christmas Carol, with faded diva Esmé Massengill playing Scrooge and beloved Schnitzel as Tiny Tim. HOLIDAY VIBE: Offbeat, rowdy, and occasionally raunchy.
BAH HUMBUG! (At SFU Woodward’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts from December 6 to 22) Blues legend Jim Byrnes helps bring local socioeconomic relevance to A Christmas Carol in this musical rendition set in the Downtown Eastside. Here, Scrooge is a renoviction-happy landlord. The music-filled show is put on by SFU Woodward’s Cultural Programs, Vancouver Moving Theatre, and Full Circle. HOLIDAY VIBE: Woke.
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (At the Gateway Theatre from December 6 to 31) Local musical master Peter Jorgensen puts his own spin on Frank Capra’s 1946 classic, blending holiday favourites and Broadway classics from the likes of George and Ira Gershwin, with arrangements by Nico Rhodes. Nick Fontaine plays down-on-his-luck George Bailey and Greg Armstrongmorris is Clarence, the angel trying to get his wings. A live orchestra provides backup. HOLIDAY VIBE: Aw-shucks 1940s musical nostalgia.
HOLIDAY BAKING TIME (At Presentation House from December 6 to 16) Doughy characters Bun and Bap return with a new Christmas-themed twist on their popular live bread-making show Baking Time. This one’s aimed at kids three to six years old and their parents. HOLIDAY VIBE: Grandma’s kitchen on Christmas morning.
ROYAL WINNIPEG BALLET NUTCRACKER (At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre from December 7 to 9) The RWB retells the holiday classic in a turn-of-the-last-century Canadian setting, complete with pond hockey and Parliament Hill. All the traditional touches are there, combined with the polished dancing of what is arguably the country’s top classical ballet troupe. HOLIDAY VIBE: Sparkling white-tutu perfection as crisp as fresh snow.
HANDEL’S MESSIAH (At the Orpheum on December 7) Jon Washburn takes the baton for his 48th Messiah, his Vancouver Chamber Choir joined by the Pacifica Singers and the Vancouver Chamber Orchestra. A topnotch cast of soloists are on hand for George Frederick Handel’s resounding masterpiece: soprano Nathalie Paulin, countertenor Daniel Cabena, tenor Isaiah Bell, and bass-baritone Stephen Hegedus. HOLIDAY VIBE: Grand, glorious hallelujahs.
A TRADITIONAL CHRISTMAS (At the Kay Meek Centre on December 13, the Centennial Theatre on December 14, the Bell Performing Arts Centre on December 15, the Michael J. Fox Theatre on December 16, and St. Andrew’s– Wesley United Church from December 20 to 22) William Rowson conducts the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in a concert sprinkled with readings by Bard on the Beach’s Christopher Gaze. The UBC Opera Ensemble and Enchor add their vocal power to Christmas songs and carols. HOLIDAY VIBE: Sprigs of holly, sleigh bells, and chestnuts roasting on an open fire.
WINTER HARP (At the Blueshore Financial Centre for the Performing Arts on December 12 and 13, and St. Andrew’s–wesley United Church on December 15) The mesmerizing candlelit concert tour celebrates its 25th year, complete with ethereal harps and rare instruments like the bass psaltery and organistrum. As usual, its musicians and singers will sport medieval costumes and perform a mix of carols, Celtic songs, and centuries-old music. HOLIDAY VIBE: The marvellously medieval. HOME ALONE (At the Orpheum on December 14 and 15) It’s easy to forget that John Hughes’s Christmas movie boasts a kick-ass score by John Williams. So instead of watching it on TV this year, head down to the gilded halls of the Orpheum to see the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra celebrate the music as well as the laughs. HOLIDAY VIBE: Sweet yet sadistic, as Macauley Culkin’s eightyear-old Kevin sets booby traps for some bumbling yuletide burglars. MIXED NUTS (At the Vancouver Playhouse from December 14 to 16) The dancers at Arts Umbrella turn The Nutcracker upside down and inside out in this holiday program that reimagines the classic ballet in the forms of hip-hop, ballroom, and much more. HOLIDAY VIBE: Tradition with a dance-savvy twist.
A JOYFUL CHRISTMAS (At Pacific Spirit United Church on December 14) The Vancouver Chamber Choir is shopping for a new artistic director, and trying out its stellar candidates in front of audiences. Germany’s Nicol Matt is on deck here, showing his stuff over a program that spans Francis Poulenc’s Hodie Christus natus est, Benjamin Britten’s A Hymn to the Virgin, Ola Gjeilo’s Spotless Rose, and much more. HOLIDAY VIBE: Exquisite, shiny ornaments of every shape and colour.
CHRISTMAS WITH CHOR LEONI (At St. Andrew’s–wesley United Church on December 14, 16, and 17, and West Vancouver United Church on December 15) A cappella harmonies, surprising new works, and traditional selections round out a diverse program for the all-male choir. HOLIDAY VIBE: A mix as fun as a box of chocolates.
MUSIC FOR THE WINTER SOLSTICE (At Heritage Hall on December 19 and 20) Music on Main returns with its fifth annual edition of this intimate concert, welcoming singer Corey Payette, along with pianist Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa and violinist Karen Gerbrecht. The program is all about luminous new music, including Nicole Lizée’s Solstice Noir, as well as two songs from Payette’s own critically acclaimed musicals—les Filles du Roi (which he wrote with Julie Mcisaac) and Children of God. HOLIDAY VIBE: No tinsel or treacle here. Music on Main puts it best in marketing materials that say “minus the mistletoe”.
GOH BALLET NUTCRACKER (At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre from December 21 to 23) Our locally created Nutcracker puts the emphasis on fun, with its real magician, cheese-hurling mouse army, and dancing bear. Bonus: members of the Vancouver Opera Orchestra play the score live. HOLIDAY VIBE: Sugar Plum Fairies and Cavaliers.
CHRISTMAS REPRISE XVI (At Holy Rosary Cathedral and New Westminster’s Queens Avenue Church on December 22) The Vancouver Cantata Singers offer respite from last-minute shopping during their matinee in one of downtown’s most serene spaces. Expect traditional favourites as well as a few surprising gems. HOLIDAY VIBE: Warm shelter from the consumer storm.
FESTIVE CANTATAS: A MONTEVERDI CHRISTMAS VESPERS (At the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on December 23) Early Music Vancouver breaks out the violins, cornetti, sackbuts, theorbos, and keyboards in an attempt to re-create the Christmas Vespers of 17thcentury Venice, with sacred music by Claudio Monteverdi. David Fallis leads the likes of Cappella Borealis, sopranos Arwen Myers and Danielle Sampson, tenor Colin Balzer, violinist Marc Destrubé, and many more. HOLIDAY VIBE: Time-travelling back to Christmas Eve at the chapel of the doge.
Clockwise from left, Kate Dion-richard and Matthew Macdonald-bain star in Miss Bennet (photo by David Cooper); the Goh Ballet Nutcracker; Jim Byrnes in Bah Humbug!; and Arwen Myers from Festive Cantatas.
Holiday Baking Time. Photo by Emily Cooper