Review: Chris, Mrs.-A New Holiday Musical

by Lynn on December 12, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Winter Garden Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Presented by Boldly Productions and the Winter Garden Theatre. Playing until Dec. 31, 2023.

Music, book and lyrics by Matthew Stodolak and Katie Kerr

Directed by Katie Kerr

Musical director, Matthew Stodolak

Choreographer, Sarah Vance

Set and Costumes by Cory Sincennes

Lighting by Mikael Kangas

Sound by Ranil Sonnadara

Cast: Eric Abel

George Absi

Carla Bennett

AJ Bridel

Andrew Broderick

Devon Michael Brown

Lucien Duncan-Reid

Henry Firmston

Shelley Kenney

Heather Kosik

Kale Penny

Jason Sermonia

Olivia Sinclair-Brisbane

Sarah Lynn Strange

Liam Tobin

Danielle Wade

Addison Wagman

Mark Weatherley

A world premiere of a Hallmark Christmas type story on stage full of cheer, exuberance, a thorny story that is in need of a happy ending and this being the festive season, needs are fulfilled. Now if the band didn’t drown out the singers and we could actually hear the lyrics, that would be swell.

The Story. We’re all familiar with those formulaic Hallmark Christmas movie/television shows: harried, lonely, good-looking people, travel home etc. for the holidays, sometimes reluctantly, meet someone, sparks fly and romance blooms.  The world premiere of Chris, Mrs.-A New Holiday Musical is like that, only it’s on stage at the Winter Garden Theatre.

Sometimes it’s best to let the show’s website explain the story, or at least start there:

“Our story begins in the city, where festiveless father Ben Chris leverages his late parents’ lodge in exchange for a promotion. The only problem is, his brother Charlie still runs it. Ben reluctantly decides to head there to convince him to sell, packing up his socialite girlfriend Vicki, and his children – teenage daughter Claire and troublemaking twins Samuel and Samantha. 

After discovering a ring in their father’s suitcase, the twins write to Santa for assistance, which seems to appear in the form of Holly, a seasonal employee at the lodge. Between Charlie’s nostalgic nature and Holly’s Christmas cheer, it soon becomes a holiday no one will forget.”

Some added information: Ben Chris is a widower. His wife got sick and died a few years before. He misses her and has not been back to the lodge because his wife loved the place and it brought back too many painful memories. He threw himself into work as a high-end advertising executive.  Ben’s brother Charlie misses Ben too. They are distant. Vicki seems a driven person in the advertising game as the face of an ad campaign. There is Ben’s assistance, Candace, a buoyant, thoughtful, smart woman who sees what is going on around her.

The Production. Corry Sincennes has designed a festive set of the outline of the lodge with lovely holiday touches. Set pieces roll on and off with ease and efficiency. Corry Sincennes’s costumes are also first rate. They are corporate-spiffy for the dress-for-success types like Ben Chris (Liam Tobin) and his ambitious girlfriend Vicki (Olivia Sinclair-Brisbane). Vicki’s cloths are black, form-fitting and indicate “don’t get too close or I’ll claw you.” For those working at the lodge Corry Sincennes’s costumes are rustic and well worn. Candace (Sarah Lynn Strange) is created as an easy target for comedy. She is loud and boisterous, has no fashion sense and so Corry Sincennes has a field day creating garish clothes for her: colours that clash; a dress that is layered and looks like a Christmas Tree that sways when she walks. Sarah Lynn Strange as Candace plays it up, but Candace is also wily and clever when it counts.

The production begins with a bang, at a raucous Christmas-bonus-celebratory party. “Just Another Jingle” is sung by a whole host of corporate types, lead by a dashing man with a chiseled jaw, who is all swagger. I have no idea who he is or why he is singing this song. I also don’t have a sense of many of the lyrics because the band is playing so loudly it’s drowning out the lyrics. Choreographer Sarah Vance makes her mark at the get-go as well. The dancers jump, pirouette at a dizzying rate and do the splits in that first number. Again, I’m asking why are they doing all that flashy stuff without a supporting reason. And if they are standouts in these attention-pulling gyrations, why are they not consistently attention-grabbing throughout the show? A bit of an imbalance there.

The dashing man is Ben Chris. He’s just created an important ad campaign (I think—those drowned out lyrics might give a clue). He has to convince his brother to sell the lodge (again those lost lyrics may have the key).

In that first scene, Vicki, a really forceful Olivia Sinclair-Brisbane is all over Ben, commandeering him as her ‘love interest.’ He almost never looks at her because their relationship is a public relations ploy. Vicki is playing it for real as a stepping stone.

Holly Carmichael (Danielle Wade) always helps out at the lodge but then flies off to be with some new boyfriend at inopportune times until she is disappointed and comes back. She is now at the lodge when she meets Ben and his three children: teenager Claire Criss (AJ Bridel) and the twin pre-teens: Samantha (Addison Wagman) and Samuel Chris (Lucien Duncan-Reid). I must confess that I thought Claire was looking after the younger kids because AJ Bridel looks more mature than a teenager. (And later when she and Holly (Danielle Wade) meet, they look about the same age). Both are gifted, it’s just that they look to be the same age.

There is also a rather mysterious white bearded man named Nick (Mark Weatherley) who is very sophisticated, very charming and beautifully dressed in a tailored red blazer. He helps move the story forward by dispensing wise advice to confused people.

The cast is a powerhouse of talent. Liam Tobin as Ben has a strong singing voice and is a charmer as Ben when he realizes where his heart is. Danielle Wade as Holly is down to earth, fun-loving with the two pre-teens and is flirty and sensible with Ben. Olivia Sinclair-Brisbane as Vicki is ambitious and won’t let anything get in her way. She sings “These boots are made for walking but these heels are made for climbing.” Brilliant lyrics that say everything about Vicki. Wonderfully played by Olivia Sinclair-Brisbane.

The driving force behind Chris, Mrs. is the dynamic duo of Matthew Stodolak and Katie Kerr. They wrote the music, books and lyrics. The music sounds generic and up-tempo. The lyrics, when I could make them out, are very clever.

Matthew Stodolak is the Musical Director. Perhaps if the band was not playing in the open in one of the side balconies and was in a covered orchestra pit the level of loudness of the band could be regulated better. As it is, the singers are often drowned out, even though they are all microphoned. Katie Kerr also directs the cast and she is efficient with her staging and keeping the pace going.

Comment. Chris, Mrs. -A New Holiday Musical is based on an old formula of the Hallmark Christmas movies. It’s sweet and funny with few surprises, and sometimes that’s not a bad thing. The whole enterprise is committed and engaging. Just right for the holidays.

Boldly Productions and the Winter Garden Theatre Present:

Plays until Dec. 31, 2023.

Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes (1 intermission)

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