By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
This is the week you can get Santa to say Merry Christmas to you in a language of your choice — for $4.38 (including fees).
It’s also the week you can go backstage in the notoriously fractious world of the amateur theatrical. Or watch Elk, Moose and Deer celebrate the holidays, in the woods. You can see the Yuletide danced, or create a sensational Christmas cocktail, as tutored by theatre people who know these things. You can experience the redemptive journey of Mr. Scrooge back to the shared human experience.
Yes, you can alight on antidotes to the oppressive retail drift of Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You through mall air.
Contrary to popular assumption, there is no cookie cutter for holiday shows. Some are sequined; some are decked out in reindeer sweaters. And they come in every nuance of fa-la-la-la-la, every cast and budget size, every degree of irony from zero to flamboyant.
•At Rapid Fire Theatre, a company devoted to every adrenalized form of improv comedy, Interactive Santa! gives you the rare opportunity Friday (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) to explore the principal Claus’s range of spontaneous talents. For $6.29, for example, Santa will write you a haiku on a subject of your choice; $6.57 gets you a pun made up by Santa based on “an object you suggest.” You can even get the jolly old elf do the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy ($21.90 including fees). Tickets and the catalogue of possibilities (which may not be suitable for kids): rapidfiretheatre.com.
•The Varscona’s Virtual Holiday Gala returns Sunday night, this time filmed from the theatre stage (and not from the living rooms of the participants). “We’ve upped our game!” says the Varscona’s new executive director Kendra Connor.
The show is led by the luminous singer-songwriter Andrea House, with Chris Andrews and Rubim de Toledo. Surrounded by a veritable bank of candles (designer: Trevor Schmidt) they’ll be doing Christmas songs, some of the jazz stripe, and a song of House’s own device, filmed by Adam Kidd.
The evening’s entertainment includes a piece commissioned (and performed) by Edmonton Opera and Ballet Edmonton, originally recorded during one of the pandemical lockdowns. And Fatalism in the New World, from Teatro La Quindicina’s season-opener Lost Lemoine Part 1, admirably fulfills the seasonal requirement of black comedy. You’ll see Andrea House and Mark Meer as a pair of aging cracker stoics sitting on their porch, following morbid prairie logic to its inevitable conclusion.
Teatro stars Belinda Cornish and Rachel Bowron will assist you in making their favourite cocktails. And in the spirit of educational zeal, the team of Davina Stewart and Coralie Cairns explores “cookless cooking,” for people who don’t like to cook but have to entertain. Ring any bells?
As Connor puts it, the event is designed to showcase the exceptional variety of entertainment housed at the Varscona. It happens Sunday (7:30 p.m.) on the Varscona Theatre’s YouTube channel, and is available for a couple of weeks after that. Further details: varsconatheatre.com. Donations to support this invaluable Edmonton theatre venue are encouraged.
•In Stewart Lemoine’s A Hudson’s Bay Story, a disgruntled menswear sales associate launches a fractious serial correspondence with the head office in Toronto. His complaint? The pre-opening store holiday playlist. He has a profound, deep-seated, detailed objection to Eydie Gormé’s version of Sleigh Ride — the voice, the lyrics, everything really.
A man mired in retail and looking for catharsis…. How can this not resonate with you?
Andrew MacDonald-Smith and Kendra Connor star in this perennial Teatro La Quindicina fave, the theatre’s contribution to this year’s edition of Ballet Edmonton’s BE Merry. It’s on the Varscona stage Thursday through Saturday. The evening’s entertainment includes dance along with holiday music from Sheri Somerville (Ballet Edmonton executive director), Andrea House, and Kendra Connor, actor-singers all. There’s a reading from former poet laureate Mary Pinkoski. Naturally, seasonal cocktails in the lobby are involved. Tickets: balletedmonton.ca.
•Ah, a man mired in retail and not looking for catharsis … at least until a ghostly intervention happens. That would be Ebenezer Scrooge, the stony-hearted CEO of Marley’s department store in David van Belle’s post-war music-filled adaptation of A Christmas Carol at the Citadel. In Ted Dykstra’s compelling performance Mr. Scrooge will be hurling his ‘Bah, humbug’s (and also ‘Scram!’ and ‘get out of here!’ and a variety of hard-edged thoughts about the bottom line) through Dec. 23. Read the 12thnight review. Tickets: citadeltheatre.com.
•Drama? You wanted Drama? Whizgiggling Productions’ The Best Little Newfoundland Christmas Pageant … Ever, back for its 11th annual edition this weekend (Friday through Sunday), takes us into the ultimate showbiz war zone. The auditions for the annual Christmas pageant have been invaded by the anarchist Herdmans, “the worst kids in school,” attracted by the rumour of free snacks.
OK, the plot and all that stuff about the manger and The Three Wise Guys may elude them, but they’re all over the concept of ruthless competition. They muscle their way into the best parts, mostly by threat, much to the consternation of the townsfolk. Can the traditional pageant survive the Herdman onslaught?
The indie company Whizgiggling founded by ex-Newfoundlander Cheryl Jameson is named in honour of the Newfoundland term for acting “silly and foolish.” Their festive show runs live Friday through Sunday at the Backstage Theatre, and it’s available Dec. 22 and 23 online. Tickets: tixonthesquare.ca.
•At Festival Place in Sherwood Park, Elf the Musical approaches the re-awakening of Christmas spirit in another way. It’s an adaptation, by Thomas Meehan (of Annie fame) and Bob Martin (of The Drowsy Chaperone fame) of the 2003 Will Ferrell movie. The Festival Players’ 30-actor production runs Saturday through Dec. 28. Tickets: ticketmaster.ca.
•In Theatre Prospero’s The Enchanted Antlers, back for a fourth iteration, Elk, Moose, Deer and Beaver gather in the woods to celebrate All Ungulate’s Eve, “the season’s only hooved holiday.” It’s on livestreamed on YouTube, Friday at 7 p.m.
•Shumka’s Nutcracker, lyrical and stunningly athletic, returns to the Jube Friday and Saturday, with guest artists from Kyiv Ballet, Virsky Ukrainian Dance Ensemble of Ukraine, Shumka School of Dance and Clara’s Dream Choir. Tickets: ticketmaster.ca.