Whether the holiday season makes you merry or mall-sick, there is a performing-arts event geared to every mood. This year, you can get fully reverent at some of the early-music concerts or outrageously irreverent at a few comical theatre offerings. Either way, there’s an ever-growing roster of shows to put you into Yuletide mode, from a new heritage-railway-car magic performance to choral shows with voices numbering in the hundreds. And did we mention Ben Heppner? Here, then, are some of the city’s seasonal offerings.
Chez Nous: Christmas with Elektra
(December 1, 2 p.m. at Queens Avenue United Church in New Westminster and 7:30 p.m. at Ryerson United Church in Vancouver)
The all-female choir spices up old and new holiday music with backup from Gypsy-tinged jazzers Van Django and swells its ranks to 100-plus with the Coastal Sound Youth Choir.
Holiday vibe: Holly and ivy meet 1930s-Paris Django Reinhardt.
Christmas with the Bach Choir
(December 2 at the Orpheum)
Four hundred voices—count ’em—bring to life old favourites and newer songs in a joint concert by VBC’s Adult Choir, Children’s Chorus, Youth Choir, and Sarabande. As an added treat, a brass quintet accompanies, and Ellen Ay-Laung Wang plays the Orpheum’s old Wurlitzer organ. Leslie Dala and Marisa Gaetanne are music directors.
Holiday vibe: Repeat the sounding joy—till it blows the domed roof off the place.
The Tallis Scholars’ Christmas Concert
(December 6 at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts)
No “Jingle Bells” on this program. Instead, the early-music greats will sing two gleaming a cappella renditions of the Magnificat—one in Spanish and the other in German. Elsewhere, they tackle the 16th-century work of Orlande de Lassus and that of Arvo Pärt (a contemporary composer whose work is often compared to 16th- and 17th-century polyphony).
Holiday vibe: Renaissance rebirth.
B.C.–born tenor Ben Heppner heads up a concert of Benjamin Britten’s Saint Nicolas, backed by the Vancouver Chamber Choir and many others.
Britten: Saint Nicolas
(December 7 at the Orpheum)
Renowned tenor Ben Heppner sings Benjamin Britten’s cantata ode to St. Nick. He has the able backing of the Vancouver Chamber Choir, the Pacifica Singers, the B.C. Girls Choir, and the Vancouver Chamber Orchestra. Did we mention Antonio Vivaldi’s Gloria is also on the program? Jon Washburn conducts.
Holiday vibe: Star wattage.
(December 12 and 13 at the North Shore Credit Union Centre at Capilano University; December 16 at the ACT, Maple Ridge; December 22 at St. Andrew’s–Wesley United Church)
Flickering candlelight and medieval outfits set the mood for festive music and song. Celtic-harp virtuoso Kim Robertson headlines this year’s concert, and drums, tambourines, temple bells, flutes, and a few ancient instruments add to the strings.
Holiday vibe: Ethereal Old World.
A Traditional Christmas
(December 13 to 15 at St. Andrew’s–Wesley United Church; December 16 at the Bell Performing Arts Centre, Surrey; December 19 at South Delta Baptist Church, Delta; December 20 at the Michael J. Fox Theatre, Burnaby; December 21 at the Centennial Theatre, North Vancouver; December 22 at the Kay Meek Centre, West Vancouver; and December 23 at the ACT, Maple Ridge)
There’s a reason—in fact, several of them—why this mix of music and Christmas readings sells out everywhere it plays each year. One is charismatic host and Bard on the Beach mainstay Christopher Gaze; another is the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, beefed up with voices from EnChor and the UBC Opera Ensemble, all training their collective sound on carols and seasonal favourites.
Holiday vibe: Crackling-fire warmth and orchestral excellence.
A Dylan Thomas Christmas
(December 14 at 8 p.m. and December 15 and 16 at 3 p.m. at Ryerson United Church)
The Vancouver Chamber Choir illustrates the classic “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” with carols. A real, live Welshman, Bard on the Beach’s Russell Roberts, adds authenticity to the readings, while Jon Washburn conducts.
Holiday vibe: Wales of a time.
Bill Bourne in The Christmas Carol Project
The Christmas Carol Project
(December 16 to 18 at the Cultch)
If the choral stuff just isn’t your scene, check out the Cultch’s folkified take on the Charles Dickens classic. Blending literary narration and music by Edmonton-based talents like Bill Bourne, Kevin Cook, Maria Dunn, Tom Roschkov, Terry Morrison, and Dale Ladouceur, it’ll give you a new perspective on the Scrooge story.
Holiday vibe: Boho-Victorian.
Home for Christmas
(December 17 at West Vancouver United Church; December 18 at St. Philip’s Anglican Church; December 21 at Christ Church Cathedral; and December 22 at Knox Presbyterian Church, New Westminster)
Musica intima mixes a serene a cappella rendition of “Carol of the Bells” with fun holiday-movie music and comedic twists on traditional songs.
Holiday vibe: A stocking stuffed with surprises.
(December 18 and 19 at St. Andrew’s–Wesley United Church) Heralding the darkest night of the year, men’s choir Chor Leoni sings about the sacred light of Christmas (think Fantasia on Christmas Carols by Ralph Vaughan Williams) and solstice traditions.
Holiday vibe: Richly, deeply, resoundingly masculine.
A Christmas Reprise
(December 22 at Holy Rosary Cathedral)
Paula Kremer guest-conducts the Vancouver Cantata Singers in their annual concert, an eclectic mix of the traditional and the contemporary—culminating in their signature “Ave Maria”—all just steps away from the downtown mall mayhem.
Holiday vibe: Joyful and triumphant, in a cathedral to match.
The Bach Cantata Project
(December 23 at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts)
Early Music Vancouver’s Bach Cantata Project Players bring to life four glimmering cantatas with the natural horn, violin, transverse flute, oboe, oboe d’amore, and oboe da caccia. Soprano Shannon Mercer, alto Laura Pudwell, tenor Colin Balzer, and baritone Sumner Thompson give Johann Sebastian Bach his vocal due. Marc Destrubé is music director.
Holiday vibe: Going for baroque.
Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Nutcracker
(December 14 to 16 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre)
The company places the classic story in a lushly set, turn-of-the-last-century Winnipeg, complete with a game of pond hockey and a battle with mounted police.
Holiday vibe: Canadian Christmas, eh?
Goh Ballet's the Nutcracker
(December 19 to 23 at the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts)
In choreographer Anna-Marie Holmes’s vivid version of the classic, New York City Ballet stars Tiler Peck and Gonzalo Garcia head up a massive cast of young local talents, with musicians from the Vancouver Opera Orchestra playing Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky’s sparkling score.
Holiday vibe: Glittering tutus and sets as pretty as Christmas-tree ornaments.
(November 28 to December 22 at the Arts Club Revue Stage)
Humorist David Sedaris’s acerbic story based on his experiences as a Macy’s elf hits the stage. Vancouver actor Ryan Beil squeezes into the striped tights and curly-toed boots.
Holiday vibe: Anti-Hallmark hilarity.
(Opens November 29 at the Improv Centre)
Expect to see Santa, Jack Frost, the Ghost of Bing Crosby, Brenda the Atheist, a street-smart rabbi, and other holiday icons battle it out in improv games in the Vancouver TheatreSports League’s seasonal show.
Holiday vibe: Twisted Christmas.
It's A Wonderful Life
(November 29 to December 29 at the Granville Island Stage)
A strong cast (with Bob Frazer as the long-suffering George Bailey, Jennifer Lines as his long-suffering wife, and Bernard Cuffling as his charmingly befuddled guardian angel, Clarence) sells this stage rendition of Frank Capra’s iconic 1946 film.
Holiday vibe: Nostalgia with a shot of darkness (when Bedford Falls goes bad).
Vancouver North Pole Express
(Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays from December 6 to 23 at the VIA Rail Pacific Central Station)
Here’s something completely new to the Christmas roster: take a seat in a fully renovated 1930s railcar, drink a cup of hot chocolate, and watch a scene come to life from the book The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. Put on by the National Railroad Historical Society of B.C., it centres around a Christmas magic show by Matthew Johnson.
Holiday vibe: All aboard!
Todd Talbot, Monique Lund, Sara-Jeanne Hosie, and Jeffrey Victor in White Christmas: The Musical. David Cooper photo.
White Christmas: The Musical
(December 5 to 23 at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage)
The Arts Club Theatre brings back its uplifting Yuletide favourite, based on the classic 1954 film with Bing Crosby’s titular hit song. (“White Christmas” trivia: the single has sold tens of millions of copies to date.)
Holiday vibe: Tap-dancing and nostalgic tunes.
The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe
(December 5 to 15 at Pacific Theatre; December 18 to 22 at the Evergreen Cultural Centre, Coquitlam)
Pacific Theatre presents its imaginative adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s novel, told through only two characters. Peter and Lucy are adults who return to their uncle’s old house to remember travelling through the magical wardrobe to a world where it was always winter—but never Christmas. Kaitlin Williams and Mack Gordon star.
Holiday vibe: Low-tech magic on a fantastical scale.
The Wizard of Oz
(December 8 to January 7 at the Waterfront Theatre)
Okay, so there are no Santas or boughs of holly, but Carousel Theatre’s imaginative, kid-friendly musical definitely qualifies as a holiday family treat. Last year, our reviewer said the troupe “goes over the rainbow and finds a pot of gold with this production”.
Holiday vibe: Munchkins and merriment.
(December 12 to 15 at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts, Burnaby; December 18 to 23 at the Firehall Arts Centre)
Ruby Slippers’ rollicking comedy takes on the Christmas story with a hilarious spoof that encompasses Joseph, Mary, lamb water births, and a queeny member of the three kings.
Holiday vibe: Irreverent hilarity.
(December 15 at 2 and 7:30 p.m. at the Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre in the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts at SFU Woodward’s)
Stars Jay Brazeau, Jim Byrnes, and Margo Kane bring to life a contemporary musical and staged-reading rendition of the Scrooge story, drawing parallels between the poverty of Victorian England and that of today’s Downtown Eastside. And it walks the walk: proceeds benefit community arts in the ’hood outside its doors.
Holiday vibe: Relevance with bells on.