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A cup of seasonal cheer and a Christmas-ish miracle

By Lorraine Graves

Published 3:29 PST, Mon December 2, 2019

Last Updated: 3:30 PST, Mon December 2, 2019

A new Christmas classic has been born. Marcus Youssef has written, and Arts Club produced, a gem that adds a tale with Canadian flavour to the repertoire of seasonal must-sees.

The stage for It’s a Wonderful Christmas-ish Holiday Miracle looks simple, packages of varying sizes wrapped in silver paper. Nope. Not so simple. Ultra flexible, in the tradition of the early Les Misérables sets. Packages move to become a living room set, an upper bedroom, an outdoor ledge, a hospital room and the gates to heaven. 

Lauchlin Johnston’s set design and Conor Moore’s lighting design add to the play immensely. 

The play opens with “Grandma Esther” coming down one of the aisles, draped in Kits high fashion and Birkenstock sandals. Esther, played with finesse and humour by Nicola Lipman, reveals she actually died with Alzheimers. 

Her next line, “But I don’t remember much about it,” gets the first laugh of the night. 

To discuss the plot, other than to say it is a family’s first Christmas after mom and dad have separated and the first without grandma, would be to give too much away. The humour is knowing and insightful with more than a dusting of local knowledge thrown in. 

Matreya Scarrener, playing Esther’s granddaughter Chloe, is a stand-out. Her ability to switch, with teenaged angst, from enthusiasm to outrage and then on to tears, is authentic and engrossing. She propels the production forward.

Glen Gordon, as Chloe’s little brother Simon, is ultra believable. With skill that seems instinctual, his character adds warmth. He is a pesky little brother who unwittingly speaks truth to power through his stick-bug pet. 

Jennifer Lines, who plays Miriam, Chloe and Simon’s newly-separated mom, and daughter to ghost Esther, is spot on. Lines is well-known for her convincing and knife-sharp performances at Bard on the Beach each summer. Her acting was excellent as expected. The surprise was her guitar instrumentals and beautiful singing voice that blended to make the play all the richer.

Ghazal Azarbad, as Selena the heavenly gatekeeper added her stand-up keyboard skills as well as her vocals. 

Azarbad had some of the best early lines in the play, explaining how admission criteria at the pearly gates had changed since Bill Gates took over the app and Aretha Franklin became the boss. 

“Needless to say, we angels of colour are thrilled,” Selena says. 

In fact, all the cast were solid musicians, playing and singing throughout the production. Richmond’s Jovanni Sy tickled the ivories while playing the dad, Steven. 

Sy is but one Richmond connection in this production. Last year’s Gateway production of Yoga Play featured both Azarbad and Christine Quintana who is associate dramaturg for Arts Club this year. Fans of the Metro pantomime will also remember Quintana as one of their stars in years past. 

While It’s a Wonderful Christmas-ish Holiday Miracle at times felt like it is still jelling, it is worth seeing. 

Sufjan Stevens’ music, performed by the actors who also provide the orchestral back-up, fits well, adding to the mood. The closing song, I’m a Christmas Unicorn, is full of seasonal good cheer and much irony with the words projected in this high tech theatre so the audience can sing along.  

With all generations in the cast, It’s a Wonderful Christmas-ish Holiday Miracle has appeal for all generations.

At the Goldcorp Stage at the BMO Theatre Centre in the Olympic Village in Vancouver running through Dec. 22. It is within walking distance of the Canada Line and is fully wheelchair accessible. Tickets through artsclub.com by phone 604-687-1644 or by email at boxoffice@artsclub.com

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