’Tis the season to be jolly. And while there may not be a miracle on 34th Street this December, many a theatrical miracle will take place on and around Broadway.
You could spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at home watching A Christmas Story as part of Turner Broadcasting System’s annual 24-hour marathon. But there’s an onstage musical version of Jean Shepherd’s tale of a lad who hopes to get a BB gun for Christmas.
When A Christmas Story came to Broadway last year, it received a Tony nomination for best musical. Now its producers decided it needed a larger theatre, so the show starring The Wonder Years’ Dan Lauria will run December 11 through December 29 at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, Seventh Avenue at West 32nd Street. Visit www.theateratmsg.com.
This is the same playhouse that, from 1994 through 2003, sponsored a musical version of A Christmas Carol, which is being performed now through December 15, literally from sea (Nantucket, Massachusetts; www.theatreworkshop.com) to shining sea (Westminster, California; www.RoseCenterTheater.com). Indeed, there are productions in every time zone: Eastern (Hackettstown, New Jersey; www.centenarystageco.org), Central (Corpus Christi, Texas; www.harborplayhouse.org), Mountain (Nampa, ID; www.mtionline.org) and Pacific (Temecula, California; www.temeculavalleyplayers.com).
What makes it so popular? The music was composed by Alan Menken, whose Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid won him some of his eight Oscars. Lyricist Lynn Ahrens is no slouch, either: She snagged a Tony for her work on Ragtime.
Of course, any holiday season means productions of A Christmas Carol. Theatergoers are offered many different ways of experiencing Charles Dickens’ immortal 1843 tale.
Some theater companies fill the stage with scenery and dozens of performers — such as the production at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey. This is David Thompson’s adaptation that’s now in its third decade there. (Many know Thompson from adapting Kander and Ebb’s Chicago into the longest-running American musical that Broadway has ever seen; one could argue that, in a way, this one has been running even longer.)
See A Christmas Carol from December 6 to December 29 at the McCarter Theatre, 91 University Place, Princeton, New Jersey. Visit www.mccarter.org.
Then there are “productions” in which one lonely actor portrays all the roles. In New York, John Kevin Jones will replicate everyone from Ebenezer Scrooge to Tiny Tim in his A Christmas Carol from December 3 to December 20 at the Merchants House Museum, 29 East 4th Street. Visit www.merchantshouse.org.
Some take the middle road between an eye-popping extravaganza and a one-man show. Patrick Barlow — who concocted a way of reducing Hitchcock’s classic The 39 Steps so that four actors could tell the story — has now upped the ante to five performers who play Scrooge, the Spirits, and all the people who love to hate him. As for a director, how could you do better than Joe Calarco, who once staged Romeo and Juliet with only four performers?
A Christmas Carol plays now through January 4 at Theatre at St. Clement’s, 423 West 46th Street. Visit www.AChristmasCarolOnStage.com.
Frankly, playwright Matt Opatrny thinks A Christmas Carol should be done with more performers: six. His version plays December 5 to December 22 at the Interart Theatre, 500 West 52nd Street. Visit www.BlessedUnrest.org.
With all due respect to A Christmas Carol, the Old Globe in San Diego prefers to trot out a different tale each holiday season: Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. All right, it’s a variation on Dickens’ story, what with another mean (if green) being who’s decidedly anti-Christmas. But one can’t argue with success: This is its 16th straight year at the Old Globe, 1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego, now through December 28. Visit www.theoldglobe.org.
Perhaps this happy annual fate will befall Elf in Philadelphia. This year marks the first go-round in the City of Brotherly Love for this Broadway musical version of the 2003 film about father-and-son love.
On a long ago Christmas Eve, an infant snuck into Santa’s sack, and St. Nick didn’t discover the babe until he’d returned to the North Pole. He named the kid Buddy and tried passing him off as an elf. Now that Buddy towers over all the genuine elves, it’s time to head to New York find his father, who isn’t immediately happy to have an elf as a son. Watch him straighten out as Elf plays now through January 5 at Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut Street, Philadelphia. Visit www.walnutstreettheatre.org.
Is a white Christmas hitting Florida? Highly unlikely. The best that Sunshine State residents can hope for is Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. Hear such standards as “Count
In case you doubt that It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey will prove you wrong. But instead of a realistic replication of the famous 1946 film, the Irish Repertory Theatre is staging the script as a radio play (which it actually was way back when). Actors dressed in ’40s garb will stand at microphones reading their scripts, dropping their just-read pages on the floor as a soundman at a prop table clomps some shoes up a tiny set of steps and slams a small door whenever anyone gets frustrated. It runs December 10 to December 29 at the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street, NYC. Visit www.irishrep.org.
While the Christmas season is prime time for family shows, there are some adult-oriented attractions mounted during the holidays, too. Nutcracker Rouge takes the famous ballet and reimagines it so it’s part dance, theater, opera, burlesque — and partly nude, too. It runs December 4 to January 5 at the Minetta Lane Theatre, 18 Minetta Lane, NYC. Visit www.companyxiv.com.
And for an equally less sentimental look at the holidays, here’s Isaac Oliver’s Lonely Christmas. The gay humorist will be there for the theatergoers who aren’t able to go home for the holidays — or wouldn’t want to, lest they run into warring parents and other relatives. It plays December 11 through December 14 at Ars Nova, 511 West 54th Street, NYC. Visit www.arsnovanyc.com.
Oh, and let’s not forget the greatest holiday pageant of them all: The Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular. The 86th edition that’s 90 minutes long offers a bevy of electronic screens. Under them you’ll see camels mix with mammals in a nativity scene and then Santa Claus take his Rudolph-led ride.
Needless to say, the Rockettes, America’s most famous dance troupe, will perform their legendary Parade of the Wooden Soldiers. Sharp eyes will notice that when they do their famous “Snow” number, none of the 36 dancers is wearing quite the same costume. (Well, every snowflake is said to be different, right?)
The Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular plays now through December 30 at Radio City Music Hall, 1260 Avenue of the Americas, NYC. Touring versions of the show come to West Palm Beach, Florida (now through December 8); Nashville (now through December 24); and Tampa, Florida (December 12 to December 29). Visit www.radiocity.com.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!