The co-creators of Chris, Mrs. – Katie Kerr (book & lyrics) and Matt Stodolak (score). Photo by Rob Anzit.December is usually filled with the return of shows we think of as old family favourites, so it is exciting when new candidates for that status take a step into the spotlight. One such is new holiday musical Chris, Mrs. making its world premiere debut in December at Toronto’s beautiful Winter Garden Theatre December 5-31.

The title is in part a play on the of Santa Claus as “Kris Kringle”, but that thought is a bit of a red herring, in what is a contemporary story of an advertising executive and single dad, Ben Chris, who in a final visit to his late parents’ lodge (which he is planning to leverage for a promotion), runs head first into family opposition from his brother Charlie, teenage daughter Claire, and troublemaking twins Samuel and Samantha. After discovering a ring in their father’s suitcase, the twins write to Santa for assistance. Enter Holly, a seasonal employee at the lodge. Between Charlie’s nostalgic nature and Holly’s Christmas cheer, it soon becomes a holiday no one will forget.

If this sounds to you like a Hallmark movie plot, you’re not wrong, as I found out chatting by email with the musical’s creators, Canadian couple Katie Kerr (book and lyrics) and Matt Stodolak (score) who are also behind the new company presenting this show: Boldly Productions(This interview has been edited and condensed.)

WN: What gave you the inspiration to create a new holiday musical, and this story in particular?

K&M: We met doing the same Christmas musical and realized that there is very little content in the Christmas musical theatre canon, especially content that is Canadian. As we began dating, we also realized that we both not only loved Christmas, but that we had each been looking for a partner to write with. So we began writing during lockdown in the basement of Matt’s parents’ house. Chris, Mrs. has always been about the importance of family, but after that first season without our loved ones, we also began to explore the importance of traditions and how they shape our lives. 

From the trailer for Chris, Mrs.: Addison Wagman “Samantha”, Danielle Wade “Holly”, Liam Tobin “Ben”, Lucien Duncan-Reid “Samuel". Photo by Max Power.

On the website it says that the show “combines the whimsy of a Hallmark movie with the spectacle of the stage.” Is this what you were aiming for from the get-go or did you realize along the way that this is what you had created?  

KK & MS: It was a happy accident. We began writing just before the pandemic, so we initially envisioned the show for the stage. We wanted to create a fun and exciting family musical experience. Once things locked down, film was the only industry that was still in production, so we began to pivot the stage version into a film script. In doing so, the parallels between the traditional Hallmark tropes and our holiday musical rom-com became more obvious. Now that theatre is coming back, our show offers the perfect blend of the comfort of those made for TV movies, with the social and spectacle elements of live theatre. We hope to welcome all kinds of friends and families into a new holiday tradition at Chris, Mrs. this December.

Katie, were you inspired by your Come From Away experience?

KK: My time at Sheridan College and the Canadian Musical Theatre Project  changed the course of my professional career. In my final year I had my heart set on being on in the Main Stage production of Chicago. When I read that I had been cast in the new works piece in the G Basement, my heart dropped. Who at that point had ever heard of Come From Away? But my experience in that show opened my eyes to a world I had never thought to explore. I fell in love with the development and exploration of new works. It absolutely inspired me to become a writer and to believe that incredible things can be built in a basement.

Can you tell us more about the musical structure of this show and your musical influences? 

KK & MS: In terms of influences our strongest comes from Stephen Sondheim: “Content dictates form; Less is more; God is in the details.” In this show we have the unique opportunity to write for three generations since the story has young kids, teenagers, and adults. Our approach to this was to think about what the sound of each generation is; what artists do they listen to and feel tell their story? For example, the teenage love song in the show has an early Taylor Swift influence. The “I Want” song for our female lead, Holly has a flavour of Alanis Morissette. So using those song books as a jumping off point to translate as a vehicle for musical theatre was the driving force behind the musical world of Chris, Mrs.

With it’s tuneful songs, light but warm-hearted script, and cast of  17 talented Canadian actors Chris, Mrs. promises to be a delightful way to celebrate the holidays. Check out the trailer here!

More holiday fare

Pollyanna: Another candidate for new family favourite is the world premiere, at Hamilton’s Theatre Aquarius, of Pollyanna, Stephen Gallagher’s (score) and Linda Barnett’s (book and lyrics) musical adaptation of Eleanor Porter’s beloved novel of the little girl who is almost too good to be true. Remember the iconic (non-musical) Disney film version starring Hayley Mills?

Brigadoon by David Cooper

New takes on classics are popping up elsewhere, too, including the Shaw Festival production of Lerner & Lowe favourite Brigadoon with a revised book by Canadian Brian Hill that ties the Scottish fantasy more closely to the real world and threat of war.

"It’s A Wonderful Life": (l-r) Caitlyn MacInnis as Sally Applewhite & Amy Matysio as Lana Sherwood. Photo courtesy of YPT Facebook.

A Wonderful Life: At Young People’s Theatre in Toronto, A Wonderful Life - which we all know from the famous Frank Capra film starring Jimmy Stewart - is being presented in the form of a radio play with all the mechanics of the production on display to the “studio” audience.

The 2019 cast of "A Huron County Christmas Carol". Photo by Terry Manzo.

Blyth: Outside the city again, the Blyth Festival is presenting their own modernized regionally specific take on a Dickens classic with A Huron County Christmas Carol, starring Blyth mainstay Randy Hughson as Scrooge, and promising a rollicking original score by John Powers. 

A scene from "Slava’s Snow Show": created and performed by clown Slava Polunin and his Academy of Fools troupe. December 22-31 at the Elgin Theatre, presented by Show One Productions. Photo by Roman Boldyrev.

Slava’s Snow Show: Back in Toronto, the internationally acclaimed visual and musical clown-inspired extravaganza Slava’s Snow Show, is celebrating its 30th anniversary of touring internationally with a short stay at the Elgin Theatre. I’m looking forward to seeing this for the first time as my inner child was captivated by this description: “a sea of magical bubbles floating through the air, an unlikely shark swimming in a misty sea, being tangled up with the performers in a gigantic spider’s web, and an out-of-this-world snowstorm that turns the theatre into a life sized snow globe.”

A scene from Catalyst Theatre’s "The Invisible – Agents of Ungentlemanly Warfare", coming to The Grand Theatre, London. Photo by Emily Cooper.

And beyond

January seems so far away right now but I can’t wait to see the Ontario premiere of Edmonton’s Catalyst Theatre’s fierce musical triumph The Invisible – Agents of Ungentlemanly Warfare, a gripping musical story about the untold, true life events of undercover female agents in World War II packed with a thrilling film-noir-meets-graphic-novel scenic design, and a powerful score. At London’s The Grand Theatre, January 16 - February 3.

Jennifer Parr is a Toronto-based director, dramaturge, fight director and acting coach, brought up from a young age on a rich mix of musicals, Shakespeare and new Canadian plays.

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