Toronto's top holiday season shows and performances to see this year

by Jeff Cottrill

There are many ways to celebrate the holiday season, from big family meals to exchanging gifts to volunteering at a shelter – or going out to a live stage show. Well, why not? Among our favourite seasonal traditions are the recurring stories of the Nativity, Scrooge, the Grinch, George Bailey, Rudolph, Kris Kringle, the Die Hard guy... This year, Toronto’s theatre and performance scene gives you many options for feeling the holiday spirit, and we’ve also thrown in a few Peel Region shows for those up for the trek. Book tickets soon for one of these Yuletide events! [Photo of The Nutcracker by Karolina Kuras, courtesy of the National Ballet of Canada]

Toronto's top holiday season shows and performances to see this year

The Nutcracker
The National Ballet’s acclaimed rendition of Tchaikovsky’s magical tale has been a Toronto tradition for more than twenty years. You’ve heard the music in countless commercials and movie soundtracks; now experience it the way it was meant to be presented, in a holiday spectacle of dance and colour, as you follow Misha and Marie into a magical kingdom and meet the Mouse King and the Sugar Plum Fairy.

A Christmas Carol  
Another local tradition, Michael Shamata’s acclaimed stage adaptation of the timeless Charles Dickens story stars Joseph Ziegler as everybody’s favourite grumpy old miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, and shows his transformation into a decent guy with the help of three spirits. Other Soulpepper regulars in the cast include Jordan Pettle and Krystin Pellerin. If you’re tired of Alastair Sim, this will do quite nicely.

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly Sweater
You don’t have to celebrate Christmas to be able to appreciate a good laugh, and Second City is back with another irreverent holiday-themed revue. Mainstage alumnus Karen Parker directs this lineup of sketches that satirize the season’s traditions, starring Jillian Welsh, Phatt Al, Natalie Metcalf, Clare McConnell, Josh Murrary and Sharjil Rasool. Wear your most hideous Christmas pullover.

 

It’s a Wonderful Life  
Every time a bell rings, Frank Capra’s classic movie airs on TV again. But in Philip Grecian’s stage version, the story of George Bailey’s rescue from suicide by his guardian angel is performed as a 1940s-style radio play, complete with Foley sound effects and corny commercials. The Lower Ossington makes an intimate setting for an offbeat spin on this familiar chestnut. Go lasso the moon!

Elf: The Musical
Another popular Christmas flick adapted for the stage – this time, it’s the 2003 Will Ferrell hit about an orphan who thinks he’s one of Santa’s elves, but now with songs by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin. Good seats can be pricey, but it promises to be a solid fun time for all ages, and rave reviews from Variety and the New York Times are usually a good sign.

Ross Petty’s A Christmas Carol
It’s the Scrooge story again ... but done Ross Petty-style, in a “sillylicious” family musical with camp humour, cross-dressing and audience participation, and familiar roles filled by Cyrus Lane, Dan Chameroy, A.J. Bridel and Eddie Glen. Petty and director Tracey Flye change the story setting from London, England to London, Ontario, and the show promises dance, ad-lib and anachronisms galore.

State Ballet Theatre of Russia's The Nutcracker
If you’ve seen the National Ballet Nutcracker a few times, or if you can’t afford the top seats this year, why not trek out west for a rare visit by the State Ballet Theatre of Russia? The selling point here is a chance to see a replication of the choreography from the Bolshoi Ballet’s staging of the show in Moscow. This is on for only one day (a matinee and an evening show), so plan ahead.

It’s a Wonderful Christmas
If you want your Christmas entertainment to stay in keeping with “the reason for the season,” then check this original musical comedy from the Christian Performing Arts folks. This mashup of A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life tells the story of a man whose perfect life collapses and who blames the holiday season for his troubles – until three mysterious figures set him straight.

Irving Berlin’s White Christmas
Another stage adaptation of a beloved Yuletide movie. The 1954 Bing Crosby hit White Christmas, about a song-and-dance duo following two singing dames to a Vermont lodge, gets the Broadway treatment with no less than seventeen Irving Berlin tunes, including “I Love a Piano,” “Blue Skies,” “Count Your Blessings,” “Sisters” and, of course, the title song.

Miracle on Mercer Street
Second City’s second holiday show is aimed for the little ones – specifically, ages four to 12 – but parents may find some amusement in it too. Reid Janisse writes and directs this puppet play about a young girl in a town where the residents can’t stop arguing about different holiday traditions. Starring Miriam Drysdale, Sheri Godda, Tom Hern and Rundeep Khaira, with original music by Glenn James.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
Yet another Christmas Carol adaptation – we can’t escape this story any more easily than Scrooge can escape those pesky spirits – and this is another one-night-only deal. Brampton’s Rose Theatre promises “eight of Canada’s finest actors” (although the website doesn’t say whom) on a unique revolving set, as well as many musical moments and a post-show singalong concert.

It’s a Wonderful Life by the Scarborough Players
And here’s another adaptation of the Jimmy Stewart warhorse – but a straight-forward one, without the radio-play bells and whistles, adapted for the stage by Doug Rand. Greg Nowlan takes on the iconic Stewart role in the Scarborough Players version, with Elaine O’Neal as Mary and Chip Thompson as the evil Potter. Followed by a wine and cheese reception on the 1st and an audience Q&A session on the 14th.

The Christmas Story
Nestled in beside the Toronto Eaton Centre, the Church of the Holy Trinity holds this annual Nativity pageant based on the King James Bible’s version of the story. Nearly 100 volunteers perform in two casts, including several babies as Jesus and even live animals. Narrated scenes are accompanied by music from an organ and an unseen choir. Perfect for holiday traditionalists.

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