Winter and the holiday season means many different things to many different people.
For most, it's a time to be with family (chosen or otherwise) and enjoy pastimes that come with the colder weather. Whether it be Hallmark rom-coms, classic read-alongs or hearing the same family tale you’ve heard dozens of times, one of the greatest parts of this season is the storytelling.
A Christmas Carol, The Grinch, Love Actually, Friday After Next, Die Hard — all classic tales that have become a staple of enjoyment for many during this season.
But they weren’t always classics. There was a time they were just ideas and were workshopped for peers to help shape them.
Barrie’s Theatre By The Bay is offering the opportunity to experience a brand-new holiday tale and invites the audience members to add their two cents after the performance.
Written by local playwright Michael Whyte and featuring the music and lyrics of award-winning country artist Jason McCoy, The Christmas Note is a one-night-only event that brings beloved elements of classic holiday tales to the stage.
I had the opportunity to ask Michael and Jason a few questions before the Dec. 15 event.
RV: How did you two connect and decide to create The Christmas Note?
MW: I’ve been a fan of Jason’s and have had the good fortune to work with him on various video projects over the years. I woke up at 5:30 in the morning in the summer of 2020, thinking about one of Jason’s songs and how the concept has the making of a great musical play or screenplay. I emailed Jason about an hour later, after I had scribbled some notes, and asked him if anyone had approached him about making a jukebox musical, a story woven through his catalogue of songs. A jukebox musical like ABBA and Mamma Mia.
Jason answered back 15 minutes later and said no one had, but it’s worth looking into. And now here we are.
JM: Mike has always been a big supporter of not only my music, but a real champion of local music and musicians for many years, so it’s a humbling honour to get a call from him about doing this project. Everything Mike does, he does all the way, and I can’t tell you how amazing it is to see how much work he’s put into this over the past few years. … Very humbling
RV: What inspired you to write a Christmas-themed romantic comedy? What influences did you draw from?
MW: Jason’s song Get a Real Job was the spark of the idea for the movie and I love, love, love Christmas movies. The Christmas Note is bits of White Christmas, It’s A Wonderful Life with a tiny smidge of A Star Is Born with a villain that is more villainy than The Grinch.
RV: Can you elaborate more on the plot? What can the audience expect?
MW: The Christmas Note is a fun yet emotional ride about the life of a young aspiring musician who dreams of being on the big stage. Her mother passed when she was young and left her with a handwritten note. Years pass and she still can’t bring herself to read it. Yet she pulls inspiration from it. After leaving for the bright lights of the big city and struggling to make it, finally her moment arrives, a new love begins to sprout and then it suddenly all gets ripped away.
It’s her journey to right the wrongs, mend her broken heart and still realize her dream.
What is different is that the audience gets to comment on the play during a moderated, post-play Q-and-A. That is invaluable to me as a playwright. What worked, what plot lines did I leave dangling? Were the characters well rounded. I’m looking forward to the feedback.
RV: What do you hope the audience takes away after the reading of The Christmas Note?
MW: Those who we have loved and lost will be with us forever. We hear them most when we are looking for guidance. No matter how quirky your family is, no matter how dark the road is ahead, no matter how complicated love can be, if we look back to them, we often can find our path forward.
RV: How did you approach writing the music and lyrics for this show? Did it differ from your usual writing process?
JM: Mike has pulled all of the music from my career to date, so I’ve had the easiest job so far. I’ve had a front-row seat for Mike’s many re-writes, and it’s been pretty awesome seeing which songs Mike has picked to include in the script. Mike has picked some of my favourite songs, including Whisper from Honky Tonk Sonatas.
RV: How would you describe your character ‘Jake’, and do you see any similarities between him and yourself?
JM: One of the things I like about my character Jake is that he’s described as a ’40-ish’ cowboy … I’m a couple of years older than that, so that’s probably my favourite part right off the bat! Seriously, though, Jake is a little more ’southern’ than I am, but I am fairly ’shaggy’ as Jake is.
It’s a real honour having Mike take on this project, because I’ve known Mike for years … back when I was clean-cut. I have put on a few miles of my own now, and I feel I can bring some genuine authenticity to the character of Jake and just be myself, really.
RV: Do you have any favourite Christmas songs or albums that inspired you?
JM: Like a lot of country singers, I grew up loving Buck Owens, and his classic Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy, which has been covered countless times, most recently by Garth Brooks, and of course the entire Elvis Blue Christmas album. But it was more the Buck Owens honky-tonk side of things that influenced me to write songs like Dear Santa … It’s very, very country.
But what I like about the songs Mike has selected for The Christmas Note is that they aren’t Christmas, per se. They just help weave the story together front to back.
The Christmas Note is a one-night-only event on Thursday, Dec. 15 at 7 p.m. at the Five Points Theatre, located in downtown Barrie (1 Dunlop St. W.)
For more information and to purchase tickets to The Christmas Note, click here.