Toronto’s gay village, not far from the College subway, echoes with song, laughter and cheers as Chris Tsujiuchi’s 11th annual Christmas Cabaret begins in a sold out theatre called Buddies In Bad Times. With a gospel choir, tap numbers and improvisational Christmas serenades, the theatre has welcomed people in all walks of life and sexuality, as Tsujiuchi has become a magnet for Christmas spirit and community.
Tsujiuchi first began performing cabarets following his graduation from Sheridan College’s Musical Theatre Performance program in Oakville. As a plus-sized Asian man, he saw the stage roles available to him were few and far between. So he took to the stage to create his own cabarets that echoed his voice, joys and community.
“No matter what you believe in or celebrate during the holidays, I encourage you to think of yourself as a candle — a source of the lights for a world that is sometimes shrouded in darkness,” Tsujiuchi said. “ And I encourage you to keep your eyes out for candles whose light has gone out or been extinguished by hatred or ignorance or marginalization, and to share your light with them. If you celebrate Hanukkah, this would be the Shamash candle. Be the Shamash candle.”
Trevor Curran, a Toronto based actor has attended 8 of Tsujiuchi’s Christmas cabarets. While sitting among the rest of the audience, Curran is one of many that is called to stand up at his seat to show that he is one of Tsujiuchi’s “straight boyfriends,” a term Tsujiuchi uses to identify and care for his friends who are straight males.
“It’s an incredible show, but for me, it’s church,” said Curran. “It’s my Christmas service. Makes me remember those I’ve lost and be hopeful for the future.”
The Christmas Cabaret has grown larger and larger each year as more of Tsujiuchi’s friends have begun to contribute. From the stage to the balcony, surprise singers will pop up in harmony around the audience to join in the holiday spirit as Tsujiuchi carries out large ballads reworked from popular Christmas songs, to shorter and fun interactive holiday favorites.
“Musical theatre as an art form hasn’t historically put stories like mine onto the stage. But I still wanted to be a performer. Self-producing a cabaret and putting my own stories out there for others felt like the next logical step.”
Sitting within the packed Buddies in Bad Times Theatre would make any new comer believe that Tsujiuchi has brought out all of his friends and family to watch him perform. But in reality, the atmosphere and welcoming of Tsujiuchi brings to life a harmonized holiday unity within the audience with every chime of Christmas bells.
“His following is a family, and showing up is like being welcomed into that family and fed,” Curran said, following Saturday’s performance.
Chris Tsujiuchi’s Christmas Cabaret played in the Buddies in Bad Times Theatre on Dec. 5, 6 and 7.