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Now onstage at Toronto's Winter Garden Theatre

Credit: Max Power Photography. Pictured: Liam Tobin, Olivia Sinclair-Brisbane and the ensemble

Joe Szekeres

“In a world so desperately longing to smile, we need ‘Chris, Mrs.’ to put a tuneful song in the heart accompanied by tripping the light fantastic dance numbers.”

The world premiere of ‘Chris, Mrs.’ ticks all the boxes on the proverbial rubric scoring sheet of a Hallmark Christmas film.

The story begins in the big, busy city where widower Ben Chris (Liam Tobin) is not in the Christmas mood at all. He leverages his late parents’ lodge for a work promotion. But this is a problem as Ben’s brother, Charlie (Kale Penny), still runs the lodge. Charlie feels a sense of connection to the lodge in memory of their parents. To convince his brother it’s best to sell, Ben decides to go to the lodge and takes with him his socialite, bitchy and arrogant girlfriend Vicki Vandrelle (Olivia Sinclair-Brisbane), and his three children, teenage daughter Claire (AJ Bridel) and twins, Samuel and Samantha (Lucien Duncan-Reid and Addison Wagman at this performance).

The twins discover a ring in their father’s suitcase and write a letter to Santa asking for assistance. Magically, Holly Carmichael (Danielle Wade) appears. Her name says it all. Holly is full of Christmas spirit. She is a seasonal employee at the lodge. Holly and Ben have met over the years, but there is no connection.

However, through misadventures, a twisted ankle, mischief and personal heart longings, everything wrong becomes right again.

Sometimes cheesy and corny in a few puzzling plot elements? Yes. Boy meets girl after many years and re-kindles relationship. Yes. Snow falling at the end with everyone standing around a Christmas tree with love in the air and a song in their hearts? Yes.

Is there anything wrong with any of that at this time of year? Absolutely not.

It’s Christmas, and I don’t want to be a Grinch. You shouldn’t either.

A quibble I have with this opening night production, and I’m sure it will be rectified immediately, is designer Ranil Sonnadara’s uneven sound balance between the singers and the orchestra throughout most of Act One. From where I sat in the house, I could not hear the lyrics in most chorus numbers and found it frustrating. I know I lost important plot information. Olivia Sinclair-Brisbane has quite an exhilarating vocal number (‘Vicki’s Lament’) to close off the first act, which moves the plot forward in her ‘scheme.’ Again, I could not hear one word in her song as the orchestra overpowered. Things were somewhat better in Act Two as I could hear the lyrics for most of the numbers.

There’s much to appreciate about the opening night production. Cory Sincennes’ costume and set designs emblazoned the set in various traditional holiday colours. Mikeal Kangas’ lighting design nicely focuses attention where it needs to be. I was rather impressed with some of Greg Dougherty’s technical direction. The tree lighting at the end of Act Two is quite clever. I smiled as I watched how the ice skating was handled on stage.

What is also impressive is the breakneck speed at which the ensemble moves set pieces smoothly in the variety of settings for the story. A good choice was made not to place the stage in complete darkness each time, which would have wholly brought the audience out of the story’s fluid pacing.

Choreographer Sarah Vance creates several visually appealing high-stepping dance numbers. Katie Kerr’s tight direction keeps the pacing fluid and moving. Her and Music Director Matt Stodolak's lyrics are uniquely clever and cheery. One example is Claire’s ‘All I Want for Christmas,’ where a particular ‘play on a word’ kept me smiling throughout the entire musical number.

The ensemble dance work of George Absi, Carla Bennett, Devon Michael Brown, Shelley Kenney, Heather Kosik and Jason Sermonia remains one of the production's highlights. Sarah Lynn Strange is bubbly and effervescent as Candace Brown, Ben’s secretary. Lucien Duncan-Reid and Addison Wagman are adorable as the troublemaking twins at this performance. Their finding of the ring also reminded me of comic moments from classic Disney films.

Mark Weatherley captures the essence of the season's magic as Nick, who sets Holly on the right track when uncertain about what she should do regarding Ben. Weatherley’s silver fox look also sets Candace’s heart fluttering. Andrew Broderick and Henry Firmston are credible in their onstage work as respective nice guys Cole Jackson and Tim Penner, who also get what they deserve by the end of the story.

As brothers Charlie and Ben, Kale Penny offers a solid juxtaposition in character development to Liam Tobin, especially when the truth outs in the second act with the arrival of the potential buyers of the lodge. As Claire, AJ Bridel’s lovely singing voice resonates and is poignant in her rendition of “All I Want for Christmas.”

Liam Tobin and Danielle Wade are appealing as ‘Christmas-crossed’ lovers who finally recognize the truth of what each means to the other. I couldn’t help but smile again as all appeared right in the world as the entire company sang ‘Different This Year.’

Again, a tad cheesy and corny, but who cares? It’s Christmas. We need to smile in our world right now.
Final Thoughts: Thank you to Katie Kerr and Matt Stodolak for sharing their dream of having a place in the Canadian musical theatre canon. Yes, ‘Chris, Mrs.’ is a holiday treat this year. Go and see it with your loved ones.

I look forward to seeing what their company BOLDLY PRODUCTIONS has planned.

Running time: approximately two hours with one intermission.

‘Chris, Mrs.’ runs until December 31 at Toronto’s Winter Garden Theatre, 189 Yonge Street. For tickets, 416-366-7723 | 1-800-708-6754 or visit

BOLDLY PRODUCTIONS and The Winter Garden Theatre PRESENT
The World Premiere of

Music, Book, and Lyrics by Matthew Stodolak & Katie Kerr
Director: Katie Kerr
Musical Director: Matthew Stodolak
Choreographer: Sarah Vance
Set & Costume Design: Cory Sincennes / Associate: Beyata Hackborn
Lighting Design: Mikael Kangas
Sound Design: Ranil Sonnadara
Stage Manager: Jessica Severin
Production Manager: Greg Dougherty

Band: Matthew Stodolak, Ben Kersey, Tom Skublics, Steve McDade, Karl Silveira, Dave Patel, Peter Bleakney

Performers: Liam Tobin, Danielle Wade, Eric Abel, George Absi, Carla Bennett, AJ Bridel, Andrew Broderick, Devon Michael Brown, Finn Cofell, Lucien Duncan-Reid, Henry Firmston, Isaac Grates-Myers, Shelley Kenney, Heather Kosik, Kale Penny, Jason Sermonia, Olivia Sinclair-Brisbane, Sarah-Lynn Strange, Addison Wagman, Mark Weatherley

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