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Christopher Plummer as Caesar and Nikki M. James as Cleopatra in the 2008 production of Caesar and Cleopatra, available soon for streaming.David Hou/Handout

Let’s get the holiday viewing started, shall we? While I’m not quite ready for A Christmas Carol yet (check next week’s newsletter for more traditional seasonal fare), it’s never too early in December to sit down and enjoy some Christmas Plummer pudding.

The Stratford Festival hosted a free online watch party of its 2010 production of The Tempest starring Christopher Plummer last week on its YouTube channel – and this week, on Thursday, at 6:30 p.m. ET, it will stream the recording of its 2008 production of Caesar and Cleopatra starring Plummer and Nikki M. James.

Caesar and Cleopatra is an 1898 comedy by Bernard Shaw, not one of Shakespeare’s Roman tragedies – and this particular production was one of the most memorable from Des McAnuff’s tenure as artistic director at Stratford. (Though, technically, it was part of the season programmed by a short-lived trio of ADs, an old story I rehashed in a column last week.)

It was staged at Stratford two years before Plummer finally won an Oscar for his performance in Beginners – and three before James won a Tony Award for her work in The Book of Mormon on Broadway.

Plummer absolutely sparkles as Caesar, who, in this play, is a classic Shavian contrarian dispensing uncommon wisdom to the shock of all around him; James is quite funny as the queen of Egypt whom Caesar teaches how to rule.

As I wrote in my review at the time, this Shaw play is basically a first draft of Pygmalion “with the obstinate older man teaching an impetuous, rough-around-the-edges younger woman how to conquer Phoenicians instead of phonetics.”

The excellent filming of the show was the first in a new approach to capturing Stratford productions that, I wrote in 2009, “makes the 1993 CBC recording of Romeo and Juliet starring Megan Follows look like one of those illegal Broadway bootlegs you find on YouTube.”

If you miss the free online screening of Caesar and Cleopatra on Thursday, it is also streaming on demand on Stratfest@Home – along with the Plummer Tempest and much more including Wajdi Mouawad’s Days of Confinement audio journal – one of my favourite (theatrical) things of 2020. (You’ll have to look up where to stream Plummer in The Sound of Music yourself.)

There’s a number of theatre-specific streaming services out there beyond Stratfest@Home, of course. Fans of Great Britain’s National Theatre will want to check out National Theatre at Home, which launched internationally last week. Access is available for a monthly fee or an annual fee – and you can also rent films of individual productions.

Before you do that, however, you may want to check out whether the National Theatre Collection – which has many of the same productions – is available through your local library. (It is part of the Toronto Public Library’s streamable offerings.)

There is some archival theatre you will only find on National Theatre at Home, however – for instance Lucy Kirkwood’s play Mosquitoes starring Olivia Colman (of The Crown) and the family show I Want My Hat Back, which is based on the best-selling children’s book by Canadian author and illustrator Jon Klassen.

Yet another new streaming app focusing on live events is called Stellar. Launched this summer, it’s built for livestreaming shows and allows producers and artists to “sell an unlimited number of tickets to a global audience.”

I haven’t tried it out yet, but I will download it onto my Apple TV this weekend as it is the spot where you can catch the ticketed event Jagged Live in NYC: A Broadway Reunion Concert on Sunday evening.

Celia Rose Gooding and Antonio Cipriano in Jagged Little Pill.Handout

This is a concert performance of the jukebox musical based around songs from Alanis Morissette’s 1995 album Jagged Little Pill; it features a book by Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody and opened in New York before the pandemic hit. (Director Diane Paulus’s production leads the nominations for the delayed 2020 Tony Awards.)

Tickets range from US$33 to US$225 if you want a bottle of Jagged Little Pinot wine and a branded face mask mailed to you. But while the concert can be streamed internationally, I’m not sure those bottles of wine will make it across the U.S./Canada border, so I’d stick to simply purchasing tickets for the show.

Speaking of Broadway musicals with Canadian connections, The Prom – which is co-written by The Drowsy Chaperone’s Bob Martin – has been turned into a film that is now available on Netflix. Film critic Barry Hertz has just reviewed it, and if you’re curious to compare and contrast his thoughts with mine about the stage show when it was on in New York, you can read my review here.

There are a number of queer-prom musicals that have been vying for a spot on Broadway, including one all-Canadian show based on the true story of Marc Hall called The Louder We Get. I reviewed its latest incarnation at Theatre Calgary right before the pandemic hit.

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