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Our guide to holiday shows: Shop local

Part of the fun of the holidays is seeing a holiday show, or two, or more. We’ve made a list and checked it twice. In the spirit of the Shop Local movement, all of our recommendations are hometown productions that support our local arts economy.

Bob Davis (Jacob Marley) and J.C. Cutler (Ebenezer Scrooge) in the Guthrie Theat
Photo by Michael Brosilow
Bob Davis (Jacob Marley) and J.C. Cutler (Ebenezer Scrooge) in the Guthrie Theater's production of the Charles Dickens classic ‘A Christmas Carol’

Through Dec. 29: “A Christmas Carol” on the Guthrie’s Wurtele Stage. The granddaddy of holiday shows is now in its 38th year. It’s a big, splashy, fast-moving, colorful production with spectacular sets and flying ghosts. This is the third year of Crispin Whittell’s adaptation, and the playwright has added some new bits that further clarify how Scrooge became … well, such a Scrooge. A few topical references (to “job creators” and one character’s brother’s “particular friend”) underscore the play’s timeless message, which rings especially true post-election: that mankind (humankind) is our business, that caring and compassion are good. Flying Foot Forum’s Joe Chvala has graduated from movement director to director/movement, meaning he’s now in charge of everything, and the production feels fluid and rhythmic, like a dance. J.C. Cutler, who five minutes ago (OK, a little longer) was artist Mark Rothko at the Park Square, returns for his second year as Scrooge, and his transformation from hard-edged, mean-spirited one-percenter to beneficent dispenser of joy and largesse is a wonder to behold; he actually seems to soften and glow. It’s entertainment on a grand scale. If you go, we wish you a somewhat less dramatic experience than we had on opening night, when an audience member collapsed and the play was halted while emergency rescue personnel and doctors from the audience cared for him. He gave a merry wave from his stretcher on the way out, everyone applauded, and the play resumed with even more energy and purpose. FMI and tickets.

the grinch
Courtesy of the Children's Theatre
‘Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ at the Children’s Theater

Through Dec. 30: “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” at the Children’s Theatre. Local critics love this show, which has a lot going for it: a terrific story, Peter Brosius’ masterful direction, a big, hairy Grinch, and a live pit orchestra. Rob Hubbard at the Pi Press couldn’t resist a Seussian summation, which lets the rest of us off the hook. (We can now reshelve our rhyming dictionaries.) FMI and tickets.

“A Don’t Hug Me Christmas Carol.”
Courtesy of New Century Theatre
‘A Don’t Hug Me Christmas Carol’ at the New Century Theatre

Nov. 23-Dec. 31 at the New Century Theatre: “A Don’t Hug Me Christmas Carol.” On Christmas Eve in Bunyan Bay, MN, Sven Yorgensen takes cantankerous bar owner Gunner Johnson on a journey similar to that of Scrooge in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” only different. A musical spoof from brothers (and Minnesota natives) Phil and Paul Olson, now in its sixth year, “Don’t Hug Me” features a Minnesota cast and 17 original songs including “Gramma Cut the Christmas Cheese.” All righty then. The past five years have sold out. FMI and tickets.

Miss Richfield 1981
Courtesy of the Illusion Theater
Miss Richfield 1981

Nov. 30-Dec. 16 at the Illusion: Miss Richfield 1981’s “We’ll All Be Dead by Christmas.” Russ King’s outrageous beauty queen returns to share her own special Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Chanukah traditions, plus new songs, videos, and outfits. Loud, proud, and hilair, with audience participation (you’ve been warned). Note that this show ends before the predicted Mayan apocalypse on Dec. 21. Are we hedging our bets, Miss R.? FMI and tickets.

Dec. 2 at the Sabes JCC: “How Do You Spell Chanukah?” Billed as “the Jewish alternative to the usual holiday fare,” this fundraiser for the 2013 Minneapolis Jewish Humor Festival (Jan. 12-16) promises comedy, laughter, music, storytelling and dreidel-spinning. Ages 12 and up. FMI and tickets.

Dec. 3 at the Old Log Theater: A Concert Reading of “A Christmas Carol,” Featuring Boone and Erickson. The beloved former ’CCO cohosts read from the original version of Dickens’ story, Old Log founder Don Stolz narrates and describes what the city of London was like when Dickens penned his classic yuletide tale, and guitarist Reuben Ristrom and the Dickens Carolers provide the music. In a recently published history of its past, “Performance of the Century,” Actors’ Equity Association highlights the Old Log as the longest continuously running Equity Theater in the country and profiles Stolz, now 95 and one of Equity’s oldest members.

(From the Dept. of Wondering Out Loud: Is anyone doing readings of Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory,” Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” O. Henry’s Christmas stories, the most famous being “The Gift of the Magi,” or our local holiday classic, Tom Hegg’s “A Cup of Christmas Tea”?)

Dec. 7-9 at the Ted Mann: “Our First Noel: A Holiday Homecoming.” For many music lovers, the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus holiday concert is an annual tradition. With new artistic director Ben Riggs out front and the marriage amendment behind us, this promises to be an especially festive event. FMI and tickets.

Dec. 8-9 at the Cowles: “The Nutcracker According to Mother Goose.” Jack and Jill, Little Bo Peep, Mary and her lamb, and other nursery rhyme characters dance to Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” in a show especially for little ones. Parents, don’t worry about the saccharine factor; the Zenon dancers are excellent no matter what they do. Shows at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. FMI and tickets.

Dec. 10 on the Guthrie’s Wurtele Stage: Kevin Kling’s “Tales from the Charred Underbelly of the Yule Log.” Our great resident storyteller spins yarns about family traditions, holiday merriment and bittersweet memories. Laughter and tears. With special guests Dan Chouinard, Simone Perrin and The Brass Messengers. We’ve seen this several times over the years and give it a big personal thumbs-up. FMI and tickets.

Dec. 12 in the Guthrie’s Dowling Studio: Tim Sparks in Concert. Born in North Carolina, longtime Minnesota resident Sparks won the National Fingerstyle Guitar Championship for his solo guitar rendition of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite.” (Some of us may remember Sparks from his years with the vocal jazz group Rio Nido.) We love the CD (formerly available only as an import, recently re-released on the Tonewood label) and can’t wait to hear this music performed live. Sparks will also play selections from his blues and jazz repertoire. FMI and tickets.

Dec. 13-16 at the Open Eye Figure Theatre: “Little Dickens.” We don’t know much about this yet, except that it involves The MovingCompany, whose principals, Dominique Serrand and Steven Epp, hail from the late and still loudly lamented Theatre de la Jeune Lune. They’re working with theater students at the U of M on this satirical new riff on “A Christmas Carol,” in which a grown-up Tiny Tim has turned “God Bless Us Every One” into a brand. This is a student production, with MovingCompany coaching the actors and advising the designers. A take-a-chance piece with potential. Check the Open Eye website FMI as the date approaches. UPDATE: Buy tickets here

Dec. 17 on the Guthrie’s Wurtele Stage: Sounds of Blackness: “The Night Before Christmas – A Musical Fantasy.” Another Twin Cities holiday tradition. Santa, Mrs. Claus, and Rudolph the Rappin’ Reindeer meet in a contemporary adaptation of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” featuring all kinds of music: gospel, blues, jazz, R&B, hip-hop. Sounds of Blackness are three-time Grammy winners. Note to Ginger Commodore fans: she’s back as “Mama,” the role she created 34 years ago, and will share the stage with her daughter and son. FMI and tickets (already tight, so you might want to get yours soon).

All is calm
Photo by George Byron Griffiths
‘All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914,’ a powerful ode to peace, recalls the spontaneous World War I truce between Allied and German forces in No Man’s Land over Christmas 1914.

Dec. 19-22 at the Pantages: “All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914.” The fifth anniversary of what has fast become a Twin Cities holiday classic. Created by Peter Rothstein, artistic director of Theater Latté Da, featuring the men’s vocal ensemble Cantus, this powerful ode to peace recalls the spontaneous World War I truce between Allied and German forces in No Man’s Land over Christmas 1914. FMI and tickets.

Dec. 29: Kwanzaa Family Day at the Minnesota History Center. A day-long celebration for all ages begins with an opening ceremony with artist Sha’ Cage and features live music (Bruce Henry, Walker West), storytelling and African folktales (Danielle Daniel), cooking demonstrations, theater presentations by Toni Stone, the first female player in the Negro Leagues, and a Ujamaa (“Cooperative Economics”) focus with business owners, artists, and entrepreneurs on hand. 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Included with museum admission. 

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