Pictured William Brown in his second year as Scrooge in Goodman Theatre's A Christmas Carol and Second City Dysfunctional Holiday Revue. Gina Bell Rock in this year's edition of Roasting Chestnuts, the annual holiday satire offered by the Noble Fool Theater.
Goodman Theatre's A Christmas Carol.
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Once upon a time, local theaters threw in the towel between Thanksgiving and New Year's, figuring no one would go out to see a show over The Holidays, even if it wasn't snowing. So, by mid-December they would shut their doors and they wouldn't show their faces again until all the football games were over.
But then someone remembered that an English chap named Charlie Dickens wrote a story called A Christmas Carol, and all across the country folks started to adapt it for this theater and that theater. And the theaters ran it from Thanksgiving clean through December, andlo!the people lined up to see it, paying good money, and bringing their kids.
Now, the Holiday Season show is the cash cow for hundreds of theaters across the country, with many moving far beyond Tiny Tim, Ebenezer Scrooge and all their ghostly chums. Today, there's a stockingful of alternative Xmas shows designed to appeal to holiday tastes from Gosh-and-Golly to Bah-Humbug! Here's our list of local Holiday Season offerings, some of which have become instant Christmas traditions in their own right. Shows are listed alphabetically; all are in Chicago unless otherwise observed. Many have extra matinees. Tickets prices are for adults; generally, kids are less. Some shows offer gala New Year's Eve performances.
A Chanticleer Christmas is an annual offering by the outstanding a cappella vocal ensemble, Chanticleer, presented by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Fourth Presbyterian Church ( Michigan Avenue at Chestnut ) , Dec. 2 and 3. The program offers contemporary and classical music of the season by American and European composers, among them Charles Ives and Francis Poulenc, who usually are not associated with holiday music. ( 312 ) 294-3000; $25-$45.
A Child's Christmas in Wales, the sensuous yet sentimental Dylan Thomas memoir of a boyhood time when he was happy, is offered by Remy Bumppo Theater Company in family matinees, Dec. 6, 13 and 20, upstairs at Victory Gardens Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln. The one-hour programs also feature Melissa Thodos & Dancers, plus readings of Holiday-themed works by short-story master Damon Runyon, Anne Dillard, and e. e. cummings. ( 773 ) 871-3000; free admission ( $10 donation suggested ) ; refreshments included.
A Christmas Carol, Goodman Theatre, through Dec. 27. Presented for the 26th year, this is the Mother of All Productions of the Mother of All Christmas Shows. Many observers ( including this writer ) don't think the new physical production is as good as the one in the old Goodman Theatre space, but the acting remains sharp with the estimable William Brown in his second year as Scrooge. ( 312 ) 443-3800; $30-$55.
A Christmas Carol, in a completely different adaptation ( Tiny Tim dies at the end of this oneJust kidding! ) , is offered for the second year at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in downtown Arlington Heights. Through Dec. 28; ( 847 ) 577-2121; $24. The Metropolis Centre also is a collection point for Toys for Tots donations.
The Christmas Schooner, presented at Bailiwick Arts Center, 1229 W. Belmont, for the 9th year, is an endearing original musical about the brave Lake Michigan skipper who used to fight winter storms to bring Christmas trees to Chicago. A lovely, warm and bittersweet tale based on fact. Through Jan. 4; ( 773 ) 883-1090; $25-$30.
A Christmas Schooner received its world premiere at Bailiwick, but since has been produced at many theaters across the country. For those who can get up to Milwaukee, the Skylight Opera Theatre also is staging Schooner in a large-scale version with full orchestra and chorus, Nov. 28-Dec. 21. At the Broadway Theatre Center, 158 N. Broadway; ( 414 ) 291-7800; $12-$49.
Fa La La This 2 is offered by Hell in a Handbag Productions, the folks who brought us PoseidonAn Upside Down Musical. This year's collection of monologues is subtitled, Even More Twisted Tales from A Hard Candy Christmas, which seems descriptive enough to suggest what you'll get if you go to see it. Nov. 28, Dec. 5, 12, 19 only, Live Bait Theater; ( 312 ) 409-4357; $10.
Gina Bell Rock is this year's edition of Roasting Chestnuts, the annual holiday satire offered by the Noble Fool Theater, right next to the Ford Center/Oriental on Randolph Street.
The Eight Reindeer Monologues, presented for the third time by The Journeymen, is Jeff Goode's highly original tale of scandal at the North Pole, when Vixen accuses Santa of sexual harassment. As the title suggests, the dark tale is told through monologues delivered by each of Santa's eight sleigh-pullers. At 925 W. Diversey Parkway, through Dec. 27; ( 773 ) 857-5395; $10.
Harvey Finkelstein's A Puppet Christmas Carol is labeled 'for adults only' and is being presented late Saturday nights ( 10:30 p.m. ) through Jan. 3. We can't tell you what to expect, but how racy can puppets be? At Live Bait Theatre, 3914 N. Clark; ( 312 ) 458-9135; $10. There's a 50% discount for those who also see the 8 p.m. show, Rudolph, the Red-Hosed Reindeer ( see listing below ) .
Jack and the Wild Goose Chase is not a Will & Grace episode where Sean Hayes gets laid. It's a show in the style of a traditional British Holiday Season pantomime. The 'pantos' are not silent, but feature original songs and dance, gags, audience participation bits and, often, cross-dressing men and women. Presented by the Piccolo Theatre at the McGaw YMCA, Evanston, Dec. 5-21; ( 847 ) 328-2204; $18.
James Joyce's The Dead is a Tony Award-winning musical being resurrected for a second year by Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis ( at the University of Chicago ) . The unlikely combination of a James Joyce short story and musical comedy definitely is a winner, an intensely emotional tale of love and perceived betrayal, set at a turn-of-the-century Dublin Christmas party, and peppered with a score that sounds Ireland born-and-bred ( but is not ) . Nov. 28-Dec. 28; ( 773 ) 753-4472; $35-$50 ( less for previews, through Dec. 5 ) .
A Merry Jewish Christmas is a new comedy by Josh Levine that tells the tale of a good Jewish boy ( no, not Jesus ) , his parents, and his non-Jewish boyfriend all of whom meet up on the last night of Chanukah, which falls on Christmas Eve. At Bailiwick Arts Center through Dec. 31; ( 773 ) 883-1090; $20-$25.
The Nutcracker, the Mother of All Holiday Ballets, in which that big, old queen, Tchaikovsky composed dreamy tunes for gals in tutus and handsome young men in tights with big baskets bulging with toys and nuts. This, of course, is the annual lavish dance spectacular by the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. At the Auditorium Theatre, Dec. 5-28; ( 312 ) 739-0120; $81-$13.50.
Nuts and Bolts is a jazz and jive version of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite, as filtered through the elegance of Duke Ellington, and danced each year by the Joel Hall Dance Company. As with the music itself, the company gives an urban twist to the old fairy tale about the Nutcracker Prince. At the Athenaeum Theatre, Dec. 3-6 only; ( 773 ) 293-0900; $25.
The Other Cinderella, premiered in 1976, is the biennial Holiday Show of the Black Ensemble Theater that takes the familiar princess-and-a-pumpkin story and places it in a Chicago housing project where the Fairy Godmama is from Jamaica and the two ugly stepsisters 'don't do nuthin'.' This version is a musical, too! Family friendly. Running at least through January, 4510 N. Beacon; ( 773 ) 769-4451; $32.50. The Black Ensemble always delivers a whole lotta' bang for your bucks.
Prairie Lights, presented for the second year by Stage Left Theatre, is an original Chanukah musicalsuitable for family audiencesabout two Jewish orphans, circa 1905, who find themselves in the wilds of Nebraska, where folks think matzo is stitched cardboard. A bit too dependent on archetypes for this writer's taste, but, hey, a lot of folks liked it or it wouldn't be back. Presented at Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont, through Jan. 3; ( 773 ) 327-5252; $26.
Redmoon 12th Annual Winter Pageant combines puppets, masks, people, live music, scenic effects and imagination in an original Western musical about Lonesome Pete out in the dsert. Along the way, Pete meets iguanas, vultures, Italian cowboys and barbers with no hair. We're not sure what it has to do with Xmas. A family show, Dec. 5-Jan. 11 at Redmoon's new home, 1463 W. Hubbard: ( 312 ) 850-8440; $15.
Rudolph, the Red-Hosed Reindeer is a tale of a put-upon transvestite reindeer, more fabulous than ever ( the producers say ) in this sixth annual presentation by Hell in a Handbag Productions, through Jan. 3 at Live Bait Theatre, 3914 N. Clark; ( 312 ) 409-4357: $21-$25. David Cerda is the author of this original Chicago piece. Forewarned is forearmed.
The Santaland Diaries is a revival by Roadworks Productions of the popular piece by David Sedaris, drawn on his real-life experience as one of Santa's elves at Macy's department store. Now a holiday staple after six years. Presented at Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division, through Dec. 21; ( 773 ) 862-7623, ext. 13: $15-$20. The gifted Lance Stuart Baker is the featured actor.
Sara Lee Welcomes Yule, not to be confused with that annual Virginia tradition, Sarah Lee welcomes ya'll. This is the eight annual concert featuring members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, and the Chicago Children's Choir, in a program of splendid seasonal music. At Symphony Center, Dec.19-23 ( seven performances ) ; ( 312 ) 294-3000; $10-$58
Screw X-mas, created by Chemically Imbalanced Comedy and presented by Sweetback Productions at the Cornservatory, 4210 N. Lincoln, through Dec. 31; ( 773 ) 865-7731; $7. Given the title, and its description as 'original tales of holiday woe,' it might be best to leave the kids at home. Tickets are cheap, but you don't seem to be paying for sentiment.
The Second City Dysfunctional Holiday Revue is the fourth annual edition of this decidedly jaundiced look at too much food, too much family and too much football, presented in Arlington Heights at the Metropolis Centre, through Dec. 31; ( 847 ) 577-2121; $17-$25
The Swordsmen's Holiday Spectacular is a new entry this year by Noble Fool Comedy Theater, offering dazzling bladesmanship and seasonal comedy for the family, through Jan. 3 at the Pheasant Run Resort & Spa in St. Charles, Ill.; ( 630 ) 584-6300; $30-$32. The show is performed by the pro stage combat teams of Douglas R. Mumaw and David B. Woolley.