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Christmas pantomime latest success for Sarnia’s Matt Murray

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Cathy Dobson

Every year for nearly a quarter century, a popular holiday tradition called the Ross Petty Pantomime is staged in Toronto.

This year, a Sarnia native was invited to write it.

Matt Murray

“I am a big believer in humour and heart,” says Matt Murray, who has worked in professional theatre for more than 20 years.

“I am a comedy writer. That’s my forte and I’ve watched quite a few performances (since the panto opened Nov. 24) and the audiences are leaving the theatre with lots of laughter.”

This year’s panto is a takeoff on A Christmas Carol with plenty of socially relevant

humour and a score full of Christmas tunes and catchy pop music.

Murray, 41, grew up performing in local community theatre and graduated from St. Patrick’s before leaving Sarnia to study at Sheridan, Canada’s top musical theatre school.

He got his big break with Mama Mia at The Royal Alex, followed by a succession of theatre hits including Hairspray at the Charlottetown Festival.

After 25 years as a performer, acting “wasn’t calling to me like it used to,” he said.  Murray began producing and developing television but found he missed the theatre.

About four years ago, he began writing plays and working on collaborations.

“It’s a tight-knit community, especially when you’ve been in the industry for this long,” Murray said by phone during a rehearsal for Rumspringa Break, a show he’s taking to the Next Stage Theatre Festival at Toronto’s Factory Theatre in January.

“I’m working with many of the same people as I used to but now from a different vantage point. I’m absolutely loving it.”

The recommendation for Murray to rewrite A Christmas Carol for Ross Petty’s panto came from Tracey Flye, a choreographer from his Mama Mia days.

“She’s been a really big supporter of my work as a writer,” he said.

The panto is getting positive press, both for its wit and on-stage talent. Several of the actors in key roles are people Murray has worked with before.

“So I know their comedic voices well,” he said.

In the panto tradition, Murray has deviated far from the Dicken’s script. His Cratchit, Marley and Ghosts of Christmas are joined by lovebirds Jane and Jack, a girl group, and a gang of Ghostbusters to teach Scrooge the real meaning of Christmas.

Mr. Scrooge is serenaded by hit songs, lots of dancing, jokes, and ad-libs.

“It doesn’t matter if you are four, 40 or 90, there’s something there for everybody,” said Murray. “And at the end of the day, there’s the lesson that it’s the free stuff that matters, the love and relationships we have.

“I think the world needs a dose of that right now.”

A Christmas Carol: The Family Musical with a Scrooge Loose! runs till Dec. 31 at Toronto’s Elgin Theatre. Tickets are $27 – $99 for adults, $28 – $69 for children under 12. Visit or phone 1-855-599-9090.





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