Abandon your grinch, all ye who enter here: holiday shows on E-town stages this week

Paul Morgan Donald and Leona Brausen in It’s A Wonderful Life, Grindstone Theatre. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

Give yourself a holiday treat this week. This week on E-town stages, you can feel the holiday spirit in a live radio play (It’s A Wonderful Life), a Christmas panto (Little Red Riding Hood), or a play (Oh! Christmas Tree, A Christmas Carol, The Best Little Newfoundland Christmas Pageant…Ever!). (Note to self: This is not the moment to be jaded about the holiday season, aural battering by Mariah Carey at the mall notwithstanding. And I have put my morbid interpretation of Frosty The Snowman on hold till January.) 

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THE LIVE RADIO PLAY: At the Grindstone Theatre in Strathcona, where cozy is a given, the Whyte Avenue Players return us to a bona fide Christmas classic — a seasonal counterpart to the Victorian skinflint and his ghostly late-night tutors.

A Wonderful Life is the story of George Bailey, the decent small-town Little Guy snatched from despair in the nick of time on Christmas Eve by a guided tour through his own past.

“You’ve been given a great gift, George. A chance to see what the world would be like without you,” says Clarence Oddbody ASC (angel second class) in the Philip Van Doren Stern story. George can’t seem to catch a break with his life, his hopes, his dreams. He’s been cornered by a non-stop barrage of petty cruelties, commitments, and compromises. Which is why he finds himself on a bridge ready to jump until Clarence, a wingless guardian angel, takes on his case.

The most famous incarnation of It’s A Wonderful Life is the 1946 Frank Capra film, which started slow (with middling reviews) en route to hit status. In the live radio stage version (adapted by Tony Palermo), you get to see the music and the sound effects being created live, by characters in full costume. In the production co-directed by Davina Stewart and the Grindstone’s Byron Trevor Martin, Tom Edwards and Andrea House are in the Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed roles as George and Mary Bailey, with Paul Morgan Donald as Clarence. The cast also includes Colin Matty, Leona Brausen and Lee Boyes as the Bedford Falls townsfolks, with Daniel Belland at the keyboard.

It’s A Wonderful Life runs Wednesday through Sunday at the Grindstone (10019 81 Ave.). Tickets: grindstonetheatre.ca or at the door.

THE CHRISTMAS PANTO: Fort Edmonton’s vintage Capitol Theatre returns us for the fifth straight season to another sort of holiday classic, the panto. That eccentric English invention is a riotous  family entertainment which plunders a fairy tale shamelessly, laces it liberally with dumb jokes, songs, local references — and invites the audience to cheer the goodies and boo the baddies.

This year’s edition is Little Red Riding Hood, adapted and directed by Dana Andersen. The production stars Madelaine Knight as Little Red, an aspirational singer-songwriter (she wants to be a house concert star), and and Davina Stewart as the Wolf.

Andersen’s cast includes Melissa MacPherson and Geoff Halaby (as Mom and Grandma, the pizza guy, a story clerk, and a beach boy at Accidental Beach). You’ll hear allusions to Mill Woods and the river valley float by. The original music is by Aaron Macri.

Stewart reports that the kids in the audience have been particularly outraged by Little Red’s wayward behaviour on her journey to Grandma’s house. “What are you doing!?” screamed one little girl. “If you’d have listened to me, you wouldn’t be in this mess!” 

Little Red Riding Hood runs through Dec. 31 at the Capitol Theatre, Fort Edmonton Park. Tickets: fortedmontonpark.ca.

THE PLAY(S):

Lora Brovold and Collin Doyle in Oh! Christmas Tree. Photo by Ian Jackson.

•At the Roxy on Gateway, Oh! Christmas Tree is a new Conni Massing romantic comedy in which a marriage-bound relationship comes smack up against a classic obstacle to happiness: she really really gets into Christmas in all of its decorative family traditions; he really really doesn’t. Ergo, the tree is highly contentious. Designer Marissa Kochanski serves up a hilarious design, full of sight gags. Brian Deedrick’s production, which runs through Sunday, stars real-life couple Lora Brovold and Collin Doyle. Tickets: theatrenetwork.ca or TIX on the Square (780-420-1757, tixonthesquare.ca). 12thnight.ca talked to the playwright (read it here), and to the actors (read it here). And there’s a 12thnight.ca guest REVIEW by Todd Babiak, too, here.

•At the Citadel, the time is drawing nigh for the 19th (and final) return of Tom Wood’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol. A wonderful production originally directed by Bob Baker, and directed for the past several years by Wayne Paquette, it stars Julien Arnold (a former Bob Cratchit) as the frozen-hearted Ebenezer Scrooge, with Jeremy Baumung as Jacob Marley, and Mat Busby as Scrooge’s nephew Fred. It runs through Sunday. Next year, a new adaptation. 12thnight.ca looked back on 19 seasons of the show (have a peek here). And read the REVIEW here

Tickets: 780-425-1820, citadeltheatre.com.

•At the Backstage Theatre (ATB Financial Arts Barns), The Best Little Newfoundland Christmas Pageant…Ever chronicles the fortunes of the annual small-town pageant when auditions are invaded by the dread Herdmans, “the worst kids in school.” Whizgiggling’s production runs through Sunday. Tickets: TIX on the Square (780-420-1757, tixonthesquare.ca or at the door).    

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