Bringing a Christmas Movie to Life
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
Watching Christmas movies on TV is my guilty pleasure. They have very predictable plots, and simple cinematography. But gee whiz, with the holiday spirit and the happy ending, they make you feel good.
Chris, Mrs. now on stage at Toronto’s Winter Garden Theatre (yes, that’s the beautiful, old theatre with the branches and vines growing down from the ceiling) is a live Christmas movie. It has all the elements we love – a widower with a teenage daughter and young twins goes home for Christmas to his family’s beautiful tourist lodge, now managed by his brother. With them is the widower’s girlfriend and (gasp!) it soon becomes apparent that she doesn’t really care about him or his children. She’s after his money, and if she arranges to sell the Lodge, they will have even more money! Spoiler alert: Thank heavens there is a cute and sassy young woman working at the lodge who reminds the widower about the importance of traditions and the true spirit of Christmas. All the makings of the perfect Christmas movie, right? Now, add beautiful singing and energetic dancing.
This show is the creation of couple Katie Kerr and Matthew Stodolak. The pair are well known in Canadian musical theatre, with Katie doing eight seasons at Charlottetown Festival as well as the Grand in London, Drayton Entertainment and Theatre Aquarius. Matthew has been the music director at Canada’s Wonderland and keyboard player for Drayton Entertainment and Theatre Aquarius. Together they wrote the script, lyrics and music, then launched the show with their own company, Boldly Productions.
Liam Tobin, back after being on Broadway and with various touring shows, shines as Ben Chris, the widower with three children, who succumbs to the nasty temptress played by Olivia Sinclair-Brisbane. Just fresh from Stratford’s Rent, Sinclair-Brisbane is delightfully evil and manipulative – you love to hate her. Back home in Canada after her role in Mean Girls on Broadway, Danielle Wade is excellent as the sweet and spirited, down-to-earth worker at the Lodge. Kale Penny as Charlie, the brother who has been managing the Lodge, is very good and A.J. Bridel as the teenage daughter is a delightful nerd. Andrew Broderick is the cute but cocky figure-skating star, and Henry Firmston is charming as the forlorn friend. Sarah Lynn Strange plays the funny and enjoyably annoying secretary and Mark Weatherly is entertaining as a surprise guest. It is an amazing all-star cast of well-experienced Canadian musical theatre celebrities, with all of whom have the best singing voices.
And then there are the dancers! This ensemble has talent galore. I have enjoyed being amazed by Carla Bennett, Jason Sermonia and Shelley Kenney for several years, and their skills are matched by George Absi, Devon Michael Brown and Heather Kosik. There are high kicks, spins, lifts, jumps, splits and an energetic tap number. Special shout-out to choreographer Sarah Vance. Mention also goes to the swings/understudies Kaleigh Gorka and Eric Abel, who had cameos on stage on opening night!
And I couldn’t go without mentioning the sweet and charming children: on opening night we saw Addison Wagman and Lucien Duncan-Reid in the role of the mischievous twins, both well on their way to musical theatre success. They alternate with Finn Cofell and Isaac Grates-Meyers.
Yes, it’s a predictable Christmas movie plot. Yes, it’s syrupy sweet. But, it’s a good family show for Christmas entertainment, and with this very talented, very professional, all Canadian cast of familiar superstars, you will enjoy it.
This show has convinced me that all Christmas movies should be musicals. White Christmas (boy meets girl, they fall in love, they fight and break up, they get back together) set that standard way back in 1954. We need more like this now. Chris, Mrs. is a charming musical that needs to be on more stages for the holiday season in the years ahead, and yes, it would be delightful on big and small screens, too.
Chris, Mrs. continues with regularly scheduled shows at The Winter Garden Theatre, 189 Yonge Street, Toronto, until December 31. Visit https://www.ticketmaster.ca/chris-mrs-a-new-holiday-musical-tickets/artist/3038888?venueId=131082 for tickets.
Photo: Samantha (Addison Wagman), Holly (Danielle Wade), Ben (Liam Tobin), Samuel (Lucien Duncan-Reid) in Chris, Mrs. Photo by Max Power.
Book, Music and Lyrics by Matthew Stodolak and Katie Kerr
Directed by Katie Kerr
Musical Direction by Matthew Stodolak
Choreography by Sarah Vance
Performed by Liam Tobin, Danielle Wade, Olivia Sinclair-Brisbane, A. J. Bridel, Kale Penny, Henry Firmston, Andrew Broderick, Sara Lynn Strange, Mark Weatherley, with children Addison Wagman, Finn Cofell, Lucien Duncan Reid, Isaac Grates, ensemble George Absi, Carla Bennett, Devon Michael Brown, Shelley Kenney, Heather Kosik, Jason Sermonia, and swings Eric Abel and Kaleigh Gorka.
The Winter Garden Theatre, 189 Yonge Street, Toronto
December 7 to 31, 2023
Reviewed by Mary Alderson