Katie Kerr and Matt Stodolak
"Pursuing 'Chris, Mrs.' has been a gift; working together has been the icing on the Christmas cookie.”
Pictured: Katie Kerr and Matt Stodolak
A glimpse at the profile picture of this adorable-looking husband-and-wife team makes me keep humming ‘We Need a Little Christmas’ from that American chestnut of a production ‘Mame.’
They’re not staging that one, far from it.
Their new all-Canadian production opens shortly, putting us all in the Christmas and holiday spirit.
‘Chris, Mrs.’ – A New Holiday Musical - has been in rehearsal since earlier in November. It’s set to run at Toronto’s Winter Garden Theatre from December 5 until December 31.
The title caught my attention immediately. It’s cute in its play on words.
It’s also a show the couple had written over the first Covid Christmas.
Lyricist, Director, and Producer Katie Kerr holds her degree from Sheridan College. She has been active as a writer and director for many years. Composer, Music Director, and Producer Matt Stodolak holds a Master of Teaching from the University of Toronto and a Bachelor of Music from McMaster University. The two are excited to make their mark on the Canadian musical theatre scene with this premiere.
It’s their first production.
Kerr and Stodolak recognize that mounting any professional musical remains risky, no matter what, as many shows are now on the Toronto scene. To top it all off, there is the rush of rushing and dashing in December to get things done and ready for the Christmas/holiday season.
That is precisely why Toronto theatre audiences need ‘Chris, Mrs.”
Kerr and Stodolak want audiences to stop and pause first and then realize it’s okay to put the dashing around to the side for the moment. Instead, let’s just take the time to enjoy the communal spirit of the season together.
What better place than the theatre?
The holiday musical’s catalyst was a Hallmark love story between the two.
Matt and Katie met performing ‘Elf, The Musical’ two years in a row. He was in the band playing second keys while she played Jovie. At that time, preliminary talk began between the two and continued why shows like ‘Chris, Mrs.’ are needed. It was through their initial discussions together and with other artists that the “AHA” moment came. There aren’t enough Christmas musicals to begin, never mind Canadian productions.
For regional theatres, the Christmas/holiday show is the venue's opportunity to introduce audiences to the season ahead. Despite so much darkness and sadness in worldwide events, Katie and Matt wondered what type of show could be introduced to new theatregoers during the holiday season.
What became apparent during the pandemic, especially over the Christmas holidays, was people wanting to stay home and watch the plethora of Hallmark Christmas movies - probably for nostalgia’s sake and to remember what the holidays meant communally for families and loved ones.
Kerr further added:
“We looked at that spirit, giving that sort of vibe but reinfusing it with the excitement and spectacle of live theatre. We’ve gone away from the recent trend of 6 handers and small companies to something that’s bigger, that has a lot of dance, a lot of things to look at, laugh about and feel a part of.”
How will ‘Chris Mrs.’ uniquely differ from the televised Hallmark Christmas label?
The most straightforward answer - It’s the live spectacle. That’s why we go to the theatre - the universal quality of communal excitement exists only at the given moment for live audiences. Watching a live Christmas production creates a sense of comfort and nostalgia.
‘Chris Mrs.’ is the perfect holiday show to share with anyone special in your life. The live bonding experience of sharing an experience like this with others will always remain unique and something that cannot be captured on film.
Matt also spoke about noticing an evolutionary tradition. Yes, people stayed home to watch the annual Hallmark Christmas films. Now, it’s time to make further memories instead of staying home - go to the theatre and see ‘Chris, Mrs.’ together as a family or with loved ones. Katie also shared something she and her family have done these last few years. Giving presents to others is nice; however, instead of just giving stuff, her family now plans events for time together. During these last few years, they have wanted to make memories of being together over the holidays.
What a lovely idea.
And what a great plug to give tickets to the theatre as part of that new tradition.
How are the two feeling as final preparation gears up for preview performances and a December 7 opening?
Matt has called this rehearsal time a transformative professional developmental opportunity for everyone involved. The two have progressed in their professional development in mounting and promoting the show. However, Matt quickly points out that they would not have anything without all the collaborators involved who have taken their hands and shown them the efficient way of getting the show where it needs to be.
Adrenaline is pumping, but everyone is:
“Unbelievably excited. We’re actually having a lot of fun through this process. Pursuing this has been a gift; working together has been the icing on the Christmas cookie.”
Kerr added that it’s also been a joy for her and Matt to marry their experiences and professional careers up to this point in more of the performance aspect. And now they are on the other side of the table, making creative decisions. Bringing the creative and production team elements together provides an energy force that has become invigorating. There’s a nervous energy, especially around the holidays, but it’s a positive one in working on a new endeavour together.
What’s the plot of the show?
The show has a ‘Hallmarkian’ feel to it. There’s a widower and his socialite girlfriend. He has a teenage daughter and two trouble-making twins. Throw in a possible promotion on the line, an old family lodge and a seasonal employee whose Christmas spirit can really melt the heart of Jack Frost.
One overarching moral/theme that permeates is that family is what you make of it. There is also the theme of the family you make along the way. The show also looks at the traditions that unite people at this time of year.
The show’s website contains the cast members. Check it out as there are names from Stratford. Several of them appeared in the final production of 'Monty Python's Spamalot', closed the show, travelled to Toronto and began rehearsals again.
There’s a complete sense of pride as 'Chris, Mrs.' is a wholly Canadian company employing artists and arts workers as everyone emerges from the pandemic. It was important for Matt and Katie to hire artists whom they trust in the collaborative process. The couple also wanted to give Canadian artists a sense of stability in providing work. Liam Tobin (Ben Chris) and Danielle Wade (Holly Carmichael) lead the company of performers. They have enjoyed tremendous success south of the border but have looked forward to performing for Canadian audiences.
Most of this current company has come over from the December 2022 workshop. That workshop was collaborative with some fantastic round table in-depth discussions regarding choices made in plot, character development and songs. Katie complements this cast, whom she calls talented, seasoned performers. They have looked at revised scripts and noted some things that may have been missed or might need to be placed back, given the series of revisions.
Matt also underscored how blessed he and Katie have been with the artists' tremendously valued and appreciated collaboration regarding the songs. For example, what might have worked when he and Katie initially wrote the music and sang with their voices was not suitable later for the voices whom they had cast.
Wow! That’s high professionalism when artists work so closely together to ensure a musical operates on its numerous levels.
What has also been an honour for the two of them?
They’ve worked with many of these artists from other shows many years ago when they were all performers. What’s uniquely special about their working together again this time? They’ve all felt valued and heard in the distillation of a piece that is both satisfying as an actor and an audience member.
An annual Christmas tradition for me over the last ten years was seeing Soulpepper’s production of ‘A Christmas Carol’ at the Young Centre. Things move forward. Dickens’ story is told by many theatre companies in Toronto and GTA, but I’ve missed seeing Soulpepper’s production these last few years.
Will ‘Chris, Mrs.’ become the annual holiday story/go-to theatre tradition?
“We would love and be honoured for audience members and families to make ‘Chris, Mrs.’ a tradition whether or not it’s every year in Toronto. If it has a life outside of Ontario or Canada, we would love for the musical to be an annual tradition down the road for sure. Of course, it’ll be up to the audiences, and we hope word will get back to us to make the show an annual holiday traditional favourite.”
A new musical is always exciting for all artists involved. What’s next for Katie and Matt once the show concludes its run?
For Matt, it’s sleep, and we all had a good laugh.
The two of them are keenly focused on making ‘Chris, Mrs.’ the best show it can be. They always have ideas about new material or adaptations, but Katie said: “It’s easy to get distracted by shiny new things,” and again, we shared a good laugh.
Look for my opening night review after December 7.
‘Chris, Mrs.’ – A New Holiday Musical - runs December 5 – 31 at Toronto’s Winter Garden Theatre, 189 Yonge Street. To learn more about the show and to purchase tickets online visit www.chrismrs.com.