TORONTO — It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Toronto and, after a year or two of glum news for commercial theater, it appears that none of the city’s legit producers will find a lump of coal in their stocking this year.
A half-dozen high-profile shows are competing for the holiday entertainment dollar in a market where there are usually only two or three. But the bottom line is that all of them are doing substantial — and in many cases SRO — business.
This comes as welcome news in a market still haunted by the premature 2004 closings of “The Producers” and “Hairspray” as well as the more recent failures of “The Lord of the Rings” and Blue Man Group to find substantial audiences.
“It only goes to prove what we’ve always said, which is that people in this city will go to see the shows they want to see,” insists John Karastamatis, director of communications for Mirvish Prods., the city’s largest independent producer.
And they appear eager to sample this year’s crop of holiday offerings.
Toronto’s longest running holiday hit is “The Nutcracker,” which the National Ballet of Canada has been presenting in James Kudelka’s staging for 11 years now.
This season marks the company’s first time in its new home, the Four Seasons Center for the Performing Arts. According to NBC’s director of marketing, Julia Drake, “We have never had such a big advance for the show and all of our matinees are already totally sold out. We anticipate a record attendance percentage this year.”
The other longevity champ with local auds is the annual Christmas pantomime. Presented by producer/performer Ross Petty for the past decade, it takes the traditional British formula and adds a fair amount of North American zip.
This year’s show is “Aladdin,” with wrestler Bret (“Hitman”) Hart as the obligatory piece of stunt casting. The show is a revival of one Petty mounted in 2004, playing at its customary near-capacity levels albeit in a shortened run to accommodate a tour of Western Canada taken prior to its Toronto opening Dec. 6.
Soulpepper Theater Company is bringing back its “A Christmas Carol” for the third time in six years. But there’s also a trio of relatively new shows in town, and that’s where things get more interesting.
The second visit of the touring company of “Wicked” to Toronto has proved even more lucrative than its first. The entire run from Oct. 8 through Dec. 31 is playing to virtually sold-out houses, with weekly grosses consistently over the million-dollar mark.
Over at Toronto’s youth theater, the Lorraine Kimsa Theater for Young People, “Seussical – the Musical” has gone clean for all seven weeks of its run, which also ends Dec. 31.
And finally, over at the Hummingbird Center, the former home of the National Ballet and its “Nutcracker,” the famous “Radio City Christmas Spectacular,” featuring the Rockettes is making its first visit to Toronto.
Perhaps optimistically, the Rockettes were scheduled for 84 performances over a seven-week period for the 3,200 seat venue: a total of 268,800 seats to fill.
Although the show is currently not running at capacity, Hummingbird CEO Dan Brambilla says “we are seeing a steady growth in our audience numbers as we get closer to Christmas, and we are reaching the goals we set in our planning stages. By the end of the run we will far surpass even our own expectations.”