Everyone from Christmas nuts to die-hard Scrooges will find something to love on this season’s ever-growing holiday-show roster. Warm carol singing, dancing fairies, and even a cookie-baking Mrs. Claus should please the traditionalists. Ethereal harp evenings and serene baroque concerts will appeal to those looking to escape the tinsel and mall madness. And a smattering of black comedies that slyly satirize Christmas offer a little “bah, humbug” to the seasonal saccharine.
Never before has there been so much Yuletide music, theatre, or dance in this city; so pull out your calendar and check out our roundup of some of the diverse offerings below. Reconnect with the spirit of Christmas—or laugh it into the stratosphere, as the case may be.
Elektra Women's Choir
November 29 at Ryerson United and November 30 at Queens Avenue United Church in New Westminster
First out of the gates, the female-powered choir presents its beloved Chez Nous program, highlighted by a performance of Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols with Vancouver harpist Heidi Krutzen. Close your eyes and pretend you’re listening to a chorus of angels.
December 1 at Massey Theatre in New Westminster; December 18 and 19 at North Shore Credit Union Centre for Performing Arts; December 21 at St. Andrew’s-Wesley Church, and elsewhere in the Lower Mainland
Think flickering candlelight and medieval gowns: one of the most popular holiday concerts celebrates its 20th anniversary with celebrated guest Celtic harpist and singer Kim Robertson.
Vancouver Bach Choir
Christmas With the Bach Choir is on December 1 and Handel’s Messiah is on December 14 at the Orpheum Theatre
In the first concert, the chorus takes on well-known seasonal works and invites the audience to sing along to carols. Then, under conductor Leslie Dala, it will bring down the house with the Messiah, putting 130 voices to the “Hallelujah”s. The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra provides the formidable backup, while soprano Rachel Fenlon, mezzo Sylvia Szadovszki, tenor Martin Sadd, and baritone Aaron Durand sing as special guests.
Vancouver Chamber Choir
A Baroque Christmas, December 6 at the Orpheum and A Charlie Brown Christmas December 13 and 15 at Ryerson United Church
In the first, glistening event, the chorus puts its collective vocal power to Johann Sebastian Bach’s luminous Magnificat, Claudio Monteverdi’s “Gloria concertata”, and Handel’s “Blessed Are They that Consider the Poor”. The second festive concert, subtitled “A Little Jazz and Joy”, hits an entirely different note, with Pacific Theatre actors Pippa Johnstone, Peter Carlone, and John Voth playing the famous cartoon characters, and jazzers by the likes of Vince Guaraldi alongside traditional holiday fare. Yes, folks, this may be the city’s most versatile choir.
Pacific Baroque Orchestra
December 7 at Pyatt Hall and December 8 at Rose Gellert Hall, Langley Community Music School
Titled “Es ist ein Ros entsprung”, the show finds exquisite soprano Suzie LeBlanc joining the ensemble for a program of Christmas and Advent songs by the likes of George Frederick Handel and Antonio Vivaldi, along with traditional Acadian folk songs and Gregorian chants. Intimate and unplugged (by definition, of course).
Vancouver Symphony Orchestra
December 12 to 14 at St. Andrew’s Wesley Church; December 16 at the Italian Cultural Centre; plus shows throughout the Lower Mainland
For the beloved A Traditional Christmas show, Gordon Gerrard conducts the orchestra while thesp Christopher Gaze hosts readings in a program of Christmas music and carols as warm as a crackling fire. UBC Opera Ensemble and EnChor also lend their voices to this annual gift from the VSO. A true local tradition, as authentic as fresh mistletoe and holly sprigs.
December 14 at Knox Presbyterian Church, New Westminster; December 16 at West Vancouver United Church, December 20 at Christ Church Cathedral, and December 21 at Ryerson United Church
This is anything but your typical carol concert. Here, the conductorless a capella choir aims the Christmas lights at Canada’s contemporary composers, with a mix of works that’s wildly different from the norm: pieces by the likes of Kristopher Fulton, Michael Conway Baker, and John Burge, all alongside Benjamin Britten’s resounding “Jesu”.
Vancouver Cantata Singers
December 21 at the Holy Rosary Cathedral
In the awe-inspiring setting of the Holy Rosary, the choir sings in the middle of the day, under the direction of Paula Kremer, with a mix of old-fashioned favourites and pieces from other cultures. The highlight, though, is always the finale: a rousing rendition of Franz Biehl’s spine-tingling arrangement of “Ave Maria”. All this, just steps from the city’s biggest downtown mall. Can you spell E-S-C-A-P-E?
Early Music Vancouver
December 22 at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts
The Bach Cantata Project: Festive Cantatas for Christmas features some of the composer’s most celebrated seasonal music. Sopranos Shannon Mercer and Catherine Webster, alto Meg Bragle, tenor Aaron Sheehan, and baritone Sumner Thompson lend their voices to these baroque beauties, accompanied by period instruments like oboes da caccia, recorders, a bassoon, natural horns, a lute, and an organ.
The Santaland Diaries
November 21 to December 21 at the Arts Club Revue Stage
And now a special little package for the politically incorrect: imp-with-edge Toby Berner dons the curl-toed shoes in this sardonically twisted take on David Sedaris’s famous tale of his gig as a Christmas elf at Macy’s. Prepare to be intermittently shocked with tales of Vomit Corner and horny “helpers”.
Christmas Queen: Improv Comedy Fairytale
November 28 to December 21 at the Improv Centre on Granville Island
Vancouver TheatreSports League unwraps the big laughs this season with the musical story of a villainous, gender-bending Christmas Queen out to ruin the big day for everyone. As usual at the league, the audience will help choose the direction of the show, and this time around the larger-than-life comedy is aimed at all ages.
Jack & the Beanstalk: An East Van Panto
December 4 to 29 at the York Theatre
Think seasonal silliness, done East Van style—all kicking off in a newly renovated theatre on the Drive. The rollicking family show written by Charles Demers and scored by none other than Veda Hille herself, is put on by Theatre Replacement. Expect hissing and cheering, slapstick, and all-out fun in the tradition of old-style pantomimes, but not without a pedigree: Amiel Gladstone directs and names like Allan Zinyk and Patti Allan star. Tickets are through the Cultch, which will be heading up the new York.
It's Snowing on Saltspring
December 4 to 28 at the Arts Club’s Granville Island Stage
Writer Nicola Cavendish has apparently updated her classic 1985 comedy for 2013 this year, with a show directed by Lois Anderson and boasting a cast that includes Andrew McNee and Beatrice Zealinger. It parallels the madness of Christmas preparations at the North Pole with those of a dysfunctional family on the Gulf Island—all to such hilarious effect it’s become a holiday favourite. And seasonal shows don’t come much more local than this.
December 4 to 7 at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts and December 10 to 22 at the Firehall Arts Centre
Picture three kings, including a queeny one, and an inn along the lines of Fawlty Towers. Ruby Slippers Theatre serves up its irreverent alternate rendition of what went on that Holy Night with a goofy, farcical satire. This year’s cast includes Alvin Sanders, Scott Bellis, and John Murphy taking on Drew McCreadie’s absurdly funny script.
Let's Kill Grandma This Christmas
December 5 to 21 at Carousel Studio Theatre
As you might infer from the provocative title, this comedy comes black as the coal you might get in your stocking. The Ghost Light Projects play by Brian Gianci finds a family planning to do Granny in after she draws up a hefty new will. But the old lady will not go easily into that good night. This should make your own family’s Christmas dinner look positively functional.
December 8 to 22 at Pacific Theatre and elsewhere in the Lower Mainland
Local musicians and actors blend songs and stories in this casually vibed anthology show. The rotating cast this year includes names like Jonathan Anderson, Michael Hart, Sheree Plett, and Brett Ziegler. Don’t expect too much sentiment here: the vignettes range from meaningful to biting, with the diversity of a mailbag full of Christmas cards.
Mrs Claus' Kitchen
December 11 to 15 and 19 to 21 at Presentation House
Here’s the newest addition to the holiday-musical menu: a deliciously interactive song-and-dance story of an underappreciated-feeling Mrs. Claus (Elizabeth Bowen) who discovers the real magic in her cookie recipe. Jeff Hyslop directs the fun, which comes complete with comical elves and a hands-on kitchen. We can almost smell the gingerbread now...
December 12 to 14 at the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts at SFU Woodward’s
Musician Jim Byrnes dons the tophat this year as Scrooge in SFU Woodward’s annual spin on A Christmas Carol, drawing parallels between Dickensian England and our own Downtown Eastside. In this song-infused version, Ebenezer is a pawn-shop owner who faces ghosts that emerge from ancient Coast Salish land that’s been buried under sidewalks.
Jacques & James
December 4 to 7 at the Firehall Arts Centre
Today he helps run the edgy plastic orchid factory, but back in the day, James Gnam donned tights to dance The Nutcracker more than 300 times. The former Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and Ballet B.C. dancer’s James pokes fun and pays tributes to that holiday favourite. It pairs with Montreal artist Jacques Poulin-Denis’s Target of God, a piece about the cosmos, planetary alignment, and huge life changes. Trust us: this is not your average seasonal dance show. And that may be just what you need at this point.
Goh Ballet's The Nutcracker
December 14 and 15 and 20 to 22 at the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts
For its fifth year out, this family-friendly spectacle brings in the Beijing Dance Academy, as well as cast members from as far away as Brazil and Australia, to join its huge, 200-strong cast. The starring roles will be danced by the Royal Danish Ballet’s principal dancers Gudrun Bojesen and Ulrik Bikkjaer in their Vancouver debuts as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier Prince. Picture magic acts, a giant gingerbread man, gymnasts tumbling out of huge skirts, and mice hurling chunks of Swiss cheese. Child-friendly to the max, all set to the sweeping sounds of the Vancouver Opera Orchestra.
Alberta Ballet's The Nutcracker
December 28 to 31 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre
The Alberta Ballet’s Czarist Russia–flavoured, $1.5-million production glimmers here again for the first time in two years. Check out its palace courtyard gilded like a giant Fabergé egg, a Snow Tsarina on a gigantic white sled, and dancers moving amid sparkling snowflakes. Edmund Stripe choreographed it, while Zack Brown crafted the luxurious costumes, and more than 100 local children share the stage with the pros. The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra plays Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky’s soundtrack to all this eye candy.