Holiday Arts: Vancouver's seasonal shows, ranked from the retro to the serene to the classical

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      Holiday performances are packing the weeks before Christmas, with offerings from the elegant to the silly. Aside from the unprecedented wave of homegrown seasonal plays, here are some of the top shows decking the city’s halls from now through the New Year, sorted for your every Yuletide mood.


      Jim Byrnes reprises his role in Bah Humbug! for the Downtown Eastside–set show’s final installment at SFU Woodward's.


      Unconventional Xmas

      Bah Humbug!

      At SFU Woodward’s in the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts from December 5 to 21

      It’s the 10th and final version of this modern, hyperlocal twist on A Christmas Carol. Set in the Downtown Eastside, the show stars singer Jim Byrnes as a pawnshop owner and slumlord who preys on the poor. Directed by Michael Boucher, it also features actors Tom Pickett, Stephen Lytton, Kevin McNulty, Sam Bob, Savannah Walling, and Margo Kane, with the St. James Music Academy Youth Choir joining the live band, and muralist Richard Tetrault artfully conjuring the alleyways that lie just outside the theatre.


      O Christmas Tea

      At the Vancouver Playhouse from December 5 to 7

      Fringe-circuit favourites James & Jamesy put a holiday spin on their comedic British tea party. Catastrophe strikes, tea floods, and physical comedy abounds.


      Paul Anthony’s Talent Time Christmas Show

      At the Rio Theatre on December 5

      The city’s most twisted live-comedy talk show brings in inspired special guests, promising more surprises than a stuffed stocking. Local funnyman Ryan Beil cohosts.


      Mixed Nuts

      At the Vancouver Playhouse from December 13 to 15

      The Arts Umbrella Dance Company upends and reimagines The Nutcracker in entertaining fashion, with vignettes that retell the story through everything from hip-hop to ballroom and polished pas de deux.


      The Vancouver Bach Choir's entire "family of choirs" reunites for one of the city's oldest holiday concerts.


      Classic Christmas

      A Christmas Carol

      At Pacific Theatre from November 29 to December 21

      Local theatre artist Ron Reed has not only written this adaptation of Charles Dickens’s famous work, but taken on performing it solo, stepping into the shoes of 43 of the book’s characters—including, of course, the infamous old miser himself.


      Handel’s Messiah

      At the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on November 30

      Here’s a concert that should be truly epic—in other words, everything you could hope for in the soaring choral masterpiece. The big draw is guest music director Ivars Taurins, who helms the famed Tafelmusik Chamber Choir and has led more than 200 renditions of the monumental work. He’ll be conducting the Pacific Baroque Orchestra and the Vancouver Cantata Singers in a landmark production copresented by Early Music Vancouver. World-class soloists include soprano Joanne Lunn, mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó, tenor Thomas Hobbs, and baritone Peter Harvey.


      Christmas With The Bach Choir

      At the Orpheum on December 1

      The first rendition of this concert was in 1930, making it one of the oldest holiday traditions in the city. And it’s now grown to showcase more than 400 performers (including the Bach Choir’s children’s chorus), this year singing classic Viennese and other European Christmas fare. Vancouver-based horn quintet A Touch of Brass provides accompaniment, as does Michael Dirk on the Wurlitzer theatre organ.


      Matthew MacDonald-Bain and Baraka Rahmani in the Arts Club's Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley.
      David Cooper


      Miss Bennet: Christmas At Pemberley

      At the Granville Island Stage from December 5 to January 4

      Cue the witty dialogue as Roy Surette directs a Yuletide follow-up to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. When it debuted last year, our theatre critic called it “cozy and romantic”.


      A European Christmas

      At the Orpheum on December 7

      The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra plays sparkling seasonal selections from Hansel and Gretel and Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, with maestro Constantin Trinks on the podium. Mezzo Barb Towell and soprano Allie Clayton lend their vocal power.


      Goh Ballet’s The Nutcracker

      At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre from December 20 to 22

      The Goh’s family-friendly spin on the beloved holiday ballet has lush sets and international stars in the roles of the Cavalier Prince and the Sugar Plum Fairy. But what sets it apart is the fun touches, from tiny gymnasts tumbling out from under a giant skirt to mice that throw big hunks of cheese during the battle scene. The Vancouver Opera Orchestra brings Tchaikovsky’s famous score to life.


      Christmas Reprise XVII

      At Holy Rosary Cathedral on December 21

      Traditional carols mix with contemporary holiday compositions in the atmospherically historic church. The Vancouver Cantata Singers’ all a cappella repertoire spans Hieronymus Praetorious’s “Magnificat Quinti Toni”, Morten Lauridsen’s “O Nata Lux”, and a signature rendition of Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria”.


      Alberta Ballet’s glistening Russian-inspired spin on the classic The Nutcracker returns to town in the days right after Christmas.
      Gerard Yunker

      Alberta Ballet’s The Nutcracker

      At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre from December 28 to 30

      Choreographed by Edmund Stipe, Alberta Ballet’s elegant version of the classic takes its inspiration from opulent imperial Russia; think mice dressed as Cossack soldiers, snowflakes garbed as Russian princesses, arctic wolves, and onion domes on the fairy-tale buildings. The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra plays the score live.


      Greg Armstrong-Morris, Erin Palm, and Nick Fontaine in It's a Wonderful Life, by Patrick Street Productions.
      David Cooper

      Retro Holiday

      A Charlie Brown Christmas: Live On Stage

      November 24 at the Vogue Theatre

      A live-action cast re-creates some of the best scenes from the 1965 animated TV special. The iconic Vince Guaraldi tunes are all there, as well as a show-ending audience sing-along.


      Christmas With Sinatra

      At the Kay Meek Centre in West Vancouver on December 8, and at the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre on December 15

      Amid holiday sets and lighting, singer Dane Warren resurrects Old Blue Eyes’ festive hits, from “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to “The Little Drummer Boy”.


      It’s A Wonderful Life

      At the Anvil Centre from December 19 to January 5

      Patrick Street Productions turns the beloved 1946 holiday movie into a musical stage adaptation, weaving in nostalgic show tunes like “Rhapsody in Blue” and “Lost in the Stars”, alongside traditional carols. It’s all backed up by a swingin’ live orchestra. Stage veteran Greg Armstrong-Morris plays Clarence, the angel trying to get his wings by saving George Bailey (Nick Fontaine).


      Caroline Shaw appears at Music on Main's Winter Solstice program.


      Seasonal Serene

      Christmas Oratorio

      December 6 at the Orpheum

      The {acific Baroque Orchestra brings period instruments to accompany  the Vancouver Chamber Choir on three festive cantatas from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio (I, III and VI) with the Pacific Baroque Orchestra on period instruments for a transcendant show.


      Music for the Winter Solstice

      At Heritage Hall on December 11 and 12

      Music on Main celebrates the darkest days of the year with candlelight and eclectic performances by New York City vocalist, violinist, and composer Caroline Shaw and singer-composer Gabriel Kahane, as well as local avant-pianist Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa. The program ranges from Arvo Pärt to Rodney Sharman and the Wyrd Sisters, as well as to composer in residence Sabrina Schroeder.


      Winter Harp

      At North Vancouver’s BlueShore Financial Centre for the Performing Arts on December 11 and 12; at New Westminster’s Holy Trinity Cathedral on December 18; and at Christ Church Cathedral on December 20

      Flickering candlelight, soothing harps, violins, and flutes, and medieval garb make this atmospheric concert the antidote to all mall madness.


      Sing Lullaby

      At St. Philip’s Anglican Church on December 15, and at Christ Church Cathedral on December 21

      The a cappella masters of musica intima draw from the British choral tradition for this year’s transcendent treat. Seasonal music spans Herbert Howells, Kenneth Leighton, Jonathan Dove, and James MacMillan. Canadian composers Kristopher Fulton and John Burge also join the mix.


      Christmas With Chor Leoni: Angels Dance

      At the Orpheum on December 21

      The polished young contemporary dancers of the Arts Umbrella Dance Company bring a new layer to the men’s choir’s holiday program. The performance centres around two folk-inspired works: composer Conrad Susa’s American Southwest–tinged Carols & Lullabies (choreographed by Lesley Telford) and Malcolm Dalglish’s haunting, harp-accompanied Star in the East, which features Appalachian shape-note singing (and choreography by Ballet BC alumna Livona Ellis). Watch for the debut of Two New Counting Carols by composer in residence Zachary Wadsworth, too. Pianist Tina Chang, harpist Vivian Chen, guitarist Ed Henderson, and percussionist Katie Rife lend their skills to the program.


      Pop-culture Trimmings

      Merry Kissmas—A Royal Romance parodies the sappy holiday specials on TV right now, on show at the Improv Centre.

      Merry Kissmas—A Royal Romance

      At the Improv Centre from November 20 to December 24

      Vancouver TheatreSports playfully parodies the nonstop stream of holiday specials filling up your PVR right now. This time, along with sending up TV’s usual Christmas clichés, it’s building in a plot surrounding an imagined royal wedding in an unknown small country called Improvanzia. As usual, audience suggestions fuel all the sappy romantic twists and turns leading up to Kissmas Day.


      Jazz songstress Holly Cole joins the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.

      Holly Cole Christmas

      At the Orpheum on December 11

      The smoky-voiced Canadian jazz songstress presents a holiday program of Christmas favourites and her own sultry hits, including music from her latest album, HOLLY. The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra performs rich orchestral backup to her band.


      Home Alone

      At the Orpheum on December 18 and 20

      John Hughes’s rambunctious comedy classic gets live accompaniment by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, celebrating the score composed by John Williams. Bask in the antics of Macaulay Culkin’s bratty eight-year-old Kevin while gaining a new appreciation of the music behind the laughs. Julian Pellicano conducts.