Diana’s Christmas in Winnipeg Checklist

Screen Shot 2017-12-11 at 7.14.43 PMI love Christmastime. There’s not a single thing I don’t love about it: shopping, movies, songs, food, the company, even the weather – I don’t mind a little snow and frost in December. And if there’s one thing that Winnipeggers know how to do better than anyone, it’s how to make the most out of winter. Like all times of year, Winnipeg’s arts scene is jam-packed with things to do. Here’s my top five things to do this holiday season:

Royal MTC’s A Christmas Carol
Runs now until December 16 at the John Hirsch Mainstage

A tried-and-true classic, A Christmas Carol reminds us that it’s not wealth that keeps us warm at night, but the love of others, and that’s what we should keep in mind at this time of year. Robb Paterson delights as Ebenezer Scrooge in this stage adaptation of Dickens’ yuletide tale. You can read my review of this production on ChrisD.ca and get more information at royalmtc.ca.

MTYP’s A Charlie Brown Double Bill
Runs now until December 31, relaxed performance on December 26, at Manitoba Theatre for Young People

This absolutely darling play, made up of selections from You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown and the iconic A Charlie Brown Christmas, is made up of a cast of Winnipeg theatre all-stars that bring new life into the classic Peanuts gang. While attending this show, I realized I have A Charlie Brown Christmas completely memorized. I also have to mention how incredible it is to see a play when you’re surrounded by kids who can’t quite figure out how theatre is made – that’s real Christmas magic. You can get more information at MTYP.ca.

WSO’s Messiah
December 15 & 16 at the Centennial Concert Hall

Have you ever heard Messiah’s “Hallelujah” chorus live? It’s nothing short of remarkable. The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s Christmas tradition continues this year with an all-new, all-Manitoban chorus made up of some of the finest singers from across the province. Paired with the core Baroque orchestra, you’ll be in awe of the musical talent that we have in this city. The WSO’s Resident Conductor Julian Pellicano conducts this masterwork for the very first time. Get more information at wso.ca.

RWB’s Nutcracker
December 21-30 at the Centennial Concert Hall

Can you hear that? Off in the distance? If you listen closely, you can hear the sound of bells playing “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy.” This unmistakable melody belongs to The Nutcracker, and our own Royal Winnipeg Ballet performs it with grace and great attention to detail each year. There’s a reason they perform it every year. Go see why! For more information, check out RWB.org.

Die Hard
December 19 at the Park Theatre

Die Hard is the best. And if the aforementioned more traditional holiday things aren’t your speed, John McClane absolutely destroying some terrorists with a machine gun (ho ho ho) just might be. Join your fellow moviegoers in watching this infamous Christmas classic for one night only at the Park. myparktheatre.com for more info.

Non-ticket-requiring things I’ll also recommend: getting a london fog at Espresso Junction and enjoying a skate at The Forks (the canopy is open!), driving through the lights (and the drive-thru mini-donuts) at Canad Inns Winter Wonderland, and being nice to every overworked retail employee you encounter. Happy holidays!

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Review: Royal MTC’s The Audience

Royal MTCs production of The Audience in co-production with Mirvish
Fiona Reid as Queen Elizabeth II in The Audience. Image via ChrisD.ca.

Check out my latest review for The Audience, exclusively on ChrisD.ca.

Review: Winnipeg Jewish Theatre’s Another Way Home

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The cast of Another Way Home. Keith Levit/Winnipeg Jewish Theatre.

The Nadelmans, the featured family in Another Way Home, are a pretty typical quartet. They could even be likened to The Simpsons, minus baby – a tall breadwinner father, an overbearing, worrisome mother, a troubled older boy and a genius younger girl. So it would’ve been easy to caricature them. But that’s not at all what playwright Anna Ziegler did.

 

In the Canadian premiere of Another Way Home, Ari Weinberg directs a cast of Winnipeg theatre vets in a heartwarming play about how a family comes to terms with growing up – yes, even the fifty-plus parents come to terms with maturing.

At first, it was difficult for me to slot myself into this play. How do I relate to anyone? I’m not an angsty teenager (anymore) and I’m not a parent (yet), so I didn’t feel immediately connected to any of the characters. But as it went on, I started to empathize with all of them.

Philip and Lillian Nadelman are visiting their son Joey at summer camp, where he’s training to be a counselor. When they show up, Joey has a breakdown because he never asked for them to come or care about him. His father yells at him, and Joey bolts. His family, including his sister Nora back home, and his counselor Mike T. spend the play looking for him.

I was a moody teenager (and a moody eight-year-old). I told my parents I hated them when I of course never did, I thought I could be independent when I didn’t have a dollar to my name, and I thought that I had it all figured out – now I know that nobody ever really figures it out. That’s exactly what this play reflected. Philip says that it just hits him that he’s been alive for 54 years and it all seems like it was just yesterday. Does he know how to interact with his moody son so that they don’t constantly quarrel? Of course not. But figuring it out is part of what makes these characters so human.

Cory Wojcik did what he does best – playing an intimidating, howling father. I gotta give it up to the actors that go toe-to-toe with him. If papa bear Wojcik yelled at me like he does some of the characters in this play, I probably would’ve peed myself. He has his tender moments too, which makes the scenes when the claws come out so much more valuable. He just wants what’s best for his family, and he’ll fight for it.

The real standout for me was Darren Martens as Mike T. His collected counselor brings a calming presence to the whole stage, even when he’s not in the scene – a skill usually reserved for actors that are much older. He doesn’t pretend to be wise or have all the answers, but his reserved coolness earns Joey’s respect, the one thing that his parents want the most.

After I left the theatre, I realized that I could see myself in all of the characters. I could see past self in Joey and my future self in Philip. I could see me and my brother in Joey and Nora’s relationship. I could see how no matter what age you are, you never stop growing up and you never stop learning. Audiences of all ages can surely relate to this.

Another Way Home runs until November 6 at the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre. You can get single tickets, or tickets to this plus a discount on the rest of WJT’s season, here.

4/5 stars

Review: Rainbow Stage’s Shrek the Musical

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Carson Nattrass beltin’ the ogre blues. Image courtesy ChrisD.ca.

I’ve been going to Rainbow Stage since I was six years old. My first show was Big – The Musical. In the last few years, I’ve made a point of trying to catch their entire season. When I heard that they were going to perform Shrek, my first thought was: “That is a big show.”

I’d watched the pro-shot version of the Broadway show on Netflix, and it has got to be one of the largest shows of the last decade. Not only are there plethoras of costume changes, set pieces, cast members, and special effects, but there’s also knowing that you have to fill some of the theatre scene’s biggest shoes – Shrek was originally led by Brian D’Arcy James as the titular character and Sutton Foster as Princess Fiona.

But last night, I was reminded that nobody does big better than Rainbow. (I’m gonna stop saying that word now.)

I saw Ring of Fire, the first show Rainbow produced this year, and although I had a good time, it didn’t fulfill my theatre experience. I watched a group of talented musicians perform Johnny Cash songs, but it wasn’t a show. It felt more like a bio-concert. Rainbow’s done a few of these in the previous five seasons: joining Ring of Fire is also Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story and A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline. I’m very aware that most of Winnipeg’s theatre season ticket holders are white-haired, but these bio-musicals are something I can experience by myself, listening to a CD and reading Wikipedia.

Shrek, on the other hand, gave me everything I could hope for in a theatre experience: wonderful actors, a moving story, a laugh every now and then, and performances that made me rise to my feet.

Carson Nattrass was an excellent Shrek, mainly because of his impeccable comedic timing, able to ad-lib and feel out the audience’s reactions. If a Shrek doesn’t know how to do this, the show could ultimately fall flat. The point of the show is to be able to make fun of itself, and Nattrass led by example.

Heather McGuigan was a perfect Princess Fiona, never missing a high-pitched note and never letting her male counterpart steal the spotlight when they had a scene together. The two are balanced in such a way that makes you see them as a pair from the moment they share their first scene together.

The only thing that took me out of the story was the microphone problems that seem to plague Rainbow Stage at every show I attend. Sometimes, I chalk it up to being there early in the run (like missing cues when I saw the preview of Les Mis last season). But this was the sixth (seventh?) performance of Shrek, and there were still mics too loud and young Shrek’s mic wasn’t turned on at all for his first (and longest) appearance at the beginning of the show. The mixing will always be an issue, thanks to its amphitheatre atmosphere, but it’s no excuse for why cues can’t be followed. It was so noticeable that audience members began chatting about it during the show.

When a movie (or book or other source) is made into a musical, I have to ask myself whether it was necessary to transfer it onto the stage. When Shrek was made fifteen years ago, the creators must have thought that a movie was the best medium for this story. Did it need to be lengthened and transformed into what it is now?

Ultimately, I wasn’t able to answer that question. I remember seeing Shrek in the theatre, but there were children there that night that may have been experiencing that story for the first time. People there who weren’t expecting the Donkey = ass jokes, and who don’t quote “you cut me real deep, Shrek” on a regular basis. Whether it was necessary or not might be irrelevant, because this show works. The magic of the story is perfect on stage, and the production values weren’t dimmed at all from the Great White Way. Rainbow Stage is certainly living up to their new mantra, “definitely Broadway, uniquely Winnipeg.”

Shrek the Musical runs at Rainbow Stage in Kildonan Park until August 31. You can get tickets at RainbowStage.ca.

Rating: 4.5/5