Overcoming Grinch-itude and getting festive: holiday shows on E-town stages this week

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

Could this be you? “You’re a monster, Mister Grinch, Your heart’s an empty hole, Your brain is full of spiders, You have garlic in your soul….” 

If your holiday spirit has been eroded by spending time in a mall (and/or hearing that song from the Mariah Carey canon ever since your Halloween pumpkin went to the Great Composter) you need magic, and you need real music. And soon.

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Both are available this week, my friends, in a variety of permutations grand-size and small-ingenious. 

•If you can’t suppress a teeny spasm of sympathy for Mr. Grinch as you slide inexorably into the figgy pudding season, there’s a show for you. Rapid Fire Theatre’s annual Yuletide musical The Blank Who Stole Christmas is both therapeutic and cathartic, in a festive sort of way. A tribute to both the Grinch and that jauntiest of rhymers Dr. Seuss. An intricate achievement in musical comedy construction, it’s both scripted and improvised. 

The gist is that a different guest improviser shows up every night, in costume, to be The Blank, a villain of their own choosing. The Rapid Fire cast of six, who’ve rehearsed their script and their moves, know nothing in advance of the identity of The Blank: a celebrity chef, perhaps, or a rock star? a cartoon personage or William Shakespeare? All will be revealed, on the night. 

The score is by Erik Mortimer, a composer/musician/musical director without whom Edmonton theatre would falter. Kate Ryan of the Plain Janes directs; Jason Hardwick choreographs. It runs at the Gateway Theatre through Dec. 17. Tickets: rapidfiretheatre.com

Lightning Cloud Presents Bear Grease, at pêhonân, Edmonton Fringe 2021. Photo supplied.

•At the Westbury Thursday through Sunday, as part of its ongoing international touring, it’s Bear Grease, an Indigenous adaptation of the iconic musical/movie that’s just back from a run at Calgary’s Grand Theatre. The run at Fringe Theatre marks the return of the co-creation by the husband-and-wife team of MC RedCloud (Evandalism) and Crystle Lightning to its point of origin in Treaty 6 territory. 

Bear Grease was the 2021 Fringe’s hottest ticket. And it’s been playing to sold-houses on both sides of the border ever since. In the immortal words, of the original, rock n’ roll is here to stay: this is the decolonized version. Tickets: fringetheatre.ca.

•Magician Keith Brown, whose show sold out its run at last summer’s Fringe, hits the Backstage Theatre Friday for a one-night only variety show. And he has talented showbiz friends. Keith Brown & Friends includes musician Jay Gilday, Brian’s fellow magician Jay Flair, and physical comedian/clowns Dayna Hoffman and Max Hanic. Tickets: fringetheatre.ca.

The benighted Ebenezer (that’s Mr. Scrooge to you) appears in two different guises this holiday season. 

•At the Citadel, A Christmas Carol is big, lavishly costumed, full of music (with a live band). In David van Belle’s adaptation it’s Christmas Eve, 1949. Which unlocks the whole familiar post-war songbook, It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of the Year, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas and the rest. Not that you’d better wish Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge a Merry Christmas. He’s terrorizing the staff and the in-store Santa at Marley’s, the department store he runs, in a fury that batters everyone around him. And in the iconic role he’s inherited for the first time John Ullyatt is terrifying, and wonderful in the way he charts the tragedy and the last-minute reclamation of the man with permafrost in his heart.

Through Dec. 23. Tickets: 780-425-1820, citadeltheatre.com. Catch 12thnight’s preview interview with John Ullyatt here. And the 12thnight review here

•At the Capitol Theatre in Fort Edmonton Park (and then the Spotlight Cabaret), It’s A Wonderful Christmas Carol: a panto radio play is a mash-up of holiday faves. A cast of four top comedy undertakes a sort of Dickensian ghost story/panto fusion in which Mr. Scrooge (Dana Andersen) shares the stage with puppets, Minions, Edmonton jokes about the continuing fiasco that is the LRT. The music is live, played by Paul Morgan Donald. See the 12thnight preview here.  

It runs through Dec 17 at Fort Edmonton (tickets: showpass.com/its-a-wonderful-christmas-carol), then Dec. 20 to 23, for brunch shows, at Spotlight Cabaret (tickets: spotlightcabaret.ca). 30

•Walterdale, Edmonton’s venerable community theatre, opts to raise your spirits with a classic 19th century sparkler, A Fitting Confusion by the Belle Époque French master farceur Georges Feydeau. Zack Siezmagraff, who writes farces himself, directs the high-speed 10-actor Walterdale production that runs through Dec. 17. Tickets: walterdaletheatre.com. 

•If you haven’t seen The Innocence of Trees yet, there’s still time (but barely, it runs through Saturday night) and you shouldn’t blow it.  Theatre Network’s beautiful production, which opens their first full season in the new Roxy, is a fantasia, and a meditation, on art and artists. Tickets: theatrenetwork.ca. See the 12thnight preview, an interview with playwright Eugene Stickland, here. And the 12thnight review here.

And next week, stay tuned, there’s more: Whizgiggling Productions brings back The Best Little Newfoundland Christmas Pageant … Ever! for its 13th seasonal outing Dec. 16 to 18 at the Backstage Theatre. Tickets: TIX on the Square (tixonthesquare.ca). And the sketch comedy trio Girl Brain is at Theatre Network’s Roxy Dec. 16 to 18. Tickets: theatrenetwork.ca.

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