The holidays come to the Centre for the Arts

John McDermott is one of several performers part of the Centre for the Arts' holiday lineup next month.

John McDermott is one of several performers part of the Centre for the Arts' holiday lineup next month.

It’s as quintessentially Christmas as Santa Claus or the Christmas tree.

The Nutcracker, bringing toe shoes and a sense of tradition to the holidays, will pirouette again across the Centre for the Arts stage for a sold out performance on Dec. 8.

Presented by Ballet Jörgen Canada, the classically choreographed performance offers a distinctly Canuck twist to this cornerstone of Christmastime events.

Ballet Jörgen sets its production, The Nutcracker – A Canadian Tradition, in the small Ontario town of Bisset in 1912, just before the start of the First World War. It’s a time when Canada was on the cusp of forging its identity as a nation, explained Bengt Jörgen, the company’s artistic director and producer.

“It’s part of the awakening of Canada as a nation,” he said. “It’s also far enough away (in time) from today that it creates that sense of magic but it also creates a story of our heritage.”

The sold out production also incorporates stunning backdrops featuring works by the Group of Seven, including Tom Thomson’s Snow in the Woods and L.L. FitzGerald’s Trees and Wildflowers.

The familiar story of Clara’s Christmas Eve dream set to Tchaikovsky’s earworm score is punctuated with appearances of Canadiana, including lumberjacks and Mounties. Unique touches aside, Jörgen said performing the classic never gets old.

“We have new dancers and every new dancer interprets the music differently, which keeps it fresh,” he said. “Dance is the human body, so it’s an evolving work that evolves on stage. Usually works get better as you go along. The same is true for The Nutcracker.”

The same could also be said about Darlene Love and her move from just outside the limelight to getting the recognition the legendary songstress deserves.

This unsung vocalist went without credit for years after lending her pipes to some of the biggest pop tunes of the ’60s.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, who has worked with a jaw-dropping list of music legends, including Elvis, Tina Turner, Sammy Davis Jr., Springsteen and Old Blue Eyes himself, will perform her hits and put a soulful spin on holiday standards.

“I’m known as the Christmas queen in New York because of the album (producer) Phil Spector put out (in 1963),” Love said. The album included the No.1 hit “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” which, for more than 20 years, she has performed annually on Late Night With David Letterman.

Often associated with The Crystals, Love is quick to clarify that she was never a member of the popular girl group. Instead, Spector recorded Love singing the next big hits in music, such as “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “He’s a Rebel” but rather than credit her for lead vocals, Spector slapped The Crystals’ name on the records.

But in 1997, a judge and jury sided with “the most over-qualified backup singer in the business.”

Love followed up the victory with the publishing of her autobiography My Name is Love in 1998. It was reprinted earlier this year to coincide with the release of the hit documentary 20 Feet from Stardom.

And on Dec. 11, Love will be squarely in the spotlight when she hits the Centre for the Arts stage with her knockout band and vocal chops that are better than ever.

In the meantime, the Centre for the Arts will be showing 20 Feet From Stardom on Friday, Dec. 6. Admission is free with a donation to Community Care of St. Catharines and Thorold.

The Manhattan Transfer will usher in December with more than 40 years of a cappella, doo-wop, jazz and soul with a sold out performance on Dec. 4.

Known for toe-tapping tunes such as “The Boy from New York City,” “Tuxedo Junction” and “Operator,” the multiple Grammy Award-winning quartet will also add their signature vocal expertise to holiday favourites.

Reviews of their performances are laden with adjectives, including ingenious and magical. In 2009, Christopher Louden wrote in Jazz Times that Manhattan Transfer “must rightfully be credited as the most enduringly creative vocal group in jazz history.”

When it comes to enduring, both Leahy and John McDermott come to mind. Both are perennial favourites among audiences at the Centre for the Arts and return this December for holiday shows.

John McDermott will warm crowds with his tenor vocals and hilarious and endearing stories as part of his 20th Anniversary Tour on Dec. 21 with Jason Fowler, Maury LaFoy and Niagara’s own Christine Bougie.

If you’ve never experienced one of McDermott’s engaging performances, be sure to catch him this season to see why audiences demand his annual return.

Leahy also consistently wows Centre for the Arts patrons and will return for two Family Christmas performances on Dec. 18 (tickets available) and Dec. 19 (sold out). A silent auction benefiting Community Care will be held at the Dec. 19 show.

Performing here since they were just kids, they now tour with the next generation of “Little Leahys” to help fiddle, dance, sing and celebrate the season.

Their engaging performances quintessentially encompass the holidays, tradition and family.

And keeping audiences even more engaged, the Centre for the Arts is offering a free ticket to any January show with the purchase of  any December performance ticket and the donation of a non-perishable food item or unwrapped toy to Community Care.

The Centre for the Arts is collecting donations for the charity throughout December.

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