The Nutcracker (National Ballet of Canada)
The National Ballet of Canada’s production of The Nutcracker is unlike a lot of other versions in its aesthetic but ultimately suffers the same pitfalls. Santo Loquasto’s Russian-inspired set and costume design is very beautiful though a few visuals, particularly around some of the more culturally specific aspects, are ageing awkwardly. A few theatrics in the mime-heavy first act steal the show, including the dancing bears and remarkably realistic horse that are for some reason part of the non-dream-sequence section of the ballet.
In this first section, like in most things, the National is very lucky to have Harrison James as he remains immensely watchable even with little opportunity to fully show off his skills. As “Peter the Stable Boy”, James spends much of the first act ushering children around the stage. Mimicking the adult dancers, Owen Whitehead stands out among the many National Ballet School cast members, playing Marie (aka Clara)’s brother Misha (aka Fritz) with beautiful technique and maturity despite his character’s obnoxious behaviour.
The second act brings the big hits. James as The Nutcracker and Genevieve Penn Nabity as the Sugar Plum Fairy pair beautifully in their pas de deux which is a head above the rest of Kudelka’s middling choreography. Arabian Coffee provides a moment of stylized interest but is perhaps in need of a rethink with a more thoughtful contemporary lens.
Notable especially coming straight off of their brilliant work in Onegin, the ensemble on opening night was as shaky as I’ve ever seen them with multiple falls and technical wobbles throughout the corps and smaller roles despite near perfection from the leads. The National’s capable in-house orchestra playing Tchaikovsky’s unimpeachable score highlights how jam packed the second act is with banger after banger of iconic music. Unfortunately the dull story construction doesn’t live up to the orchestral brilliance no matter the adaptation and James Kudelka’s version leaves much to be desired.
Chris, Mrs. (Boldly Productions at The Winter Garden Theatre)
Matthew Stodolak and Katie Kerr’s new company Boldly Productions is making a play for the holiday extravaganza gap in the commercial theatre market left by the departure of Ross Petty’s longstanding pantomime. Debuting an original musical with broad marketing and a massive house to fill is beyond ambitious but the crowd-pleasing charm and incredible cast in Stodolak (music) & Kerr (book/lyrics)’s Hallmark-y holiday romance could warm even the coldest of hearts.
The self-awarely simple storytelling focuses on sweetness and goofy humour, set to earworm ditties sung by some of the best and most undeniably likeable performers in Canadian musical theatre.
AJ Bridel is, as always, irresistible even when tasked with playing a character nearly half her age, and Shaw/Stratford powerhouse Olivia Sinclair-Brisbane mines the simplistic villain for every ounce of main character energy. Romantic leads Danielle Wade and Liam Tobin are charming as heck though their romance relies too much on the audience’s assumption that two people that charming would have a spark rather than writing that allows them to show one.
There’s a shut-off-your-brain niceness to Chris, Mrs. that feels fully intentional and is therefore completely successful though I couldn’t help but wish for a little bit more sneaky complexity, or even just specificity, beneath the glittering surface. A tad too generic even though generic is the point, Chris, Mrs. squanders some potential but is so well executed and so big-hearted that it’s a joy to watch even if it doesn’t exceed expectations.