For your Thanksgiving weekend pleasure: our holiday dozen. Twelve sure bets for the season. Many are classics, but there’s a reason for that: They work, and people want to see them again and again. (Congrats to the New Standards on their tenth year.) This won’t be our last word on holiday shows, but it’s a good start, and you might want to peruse this list over leftovers and score some tickets.
At the Guthrie: “A Christmas Carol.” A Twin Cities tradition for 42 years. The story never gets old, and neither does the production, refreshing itself often enough to keep things interesting. Joe Chvala directs; J.C. Cutler returns as Scrooge. Ends Dec. 30. FMI and tickets ($17-137).
At Penumbra Theatre: “Black Nativity.” We’ve seen a few different presentations of Langston Hughes’ song-play, and this is the one we love best: the concert version, straightforward and so powerful. Lou Bellamy narrates; Dennis Spears and Jamecia Bennett sing (do they ever!), with the mighty Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church Choir; Sanford Moore provides musical direction. New this year: dancing and footwork choreographed by Uri Sands of TU Dance. Dec. 1-23. FMI and tickets ($15-40).
At the Ritz Theater: Theater Latté Da: “A Christmas Carole Petersen.” It’s been eight years since we’ve had the chance to laugh along with Tod Petersen’s stories about his family Christmases in Mankato and his mom, Carole. This is the welcome return of a funny, feel-good show. Written by Petersen and Peter Rothstein, directed by Rothstein. Through Dec. 23. FMI and tickets ($30-45).
At the Mill City Museum: “An Eventually Christmas: Holidays at the Mill.” The Ghost of Mill City Past is your guide in a play set in the museum’s Flour Tower elevator ride. Scenes from the 1920 Washburn Crosby holiday party unfold on different floors. Dec. 15-17, shows at 6, 7 and 8 p.m. FMI and tickets ($10-14).
At the O’Shaughnessy: St. Paul Ballet: “Clara’s Dream from The Nutcracker.” Zoë Emilie Henrot’s re-imagining of the holiday chestnut (so to speak) makes Clara the star of a “magical mystery tour” from adolescence to adulthood. With 100 dancers, elaborate costumes by Christina Onusko, new scenery for the opening set (the party scene) by Anne Henley, and a just-right length (90 minutes), this is a perfect holiday outing for all ages. 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2 and Saturday, Dec. 3; 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4. FMI and tickets ($19-32).
At the Basilica of St. Mary and the Ordway Concert Hall: The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra: Handel’s “Messiah.” English conductor Paul McCreesh will lead the SPCO, the Minnesota Chorale and soloists in Handel’s great masterpiece. 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16, at the Basilica; 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17 and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18 at the Concert Hall. FMI and tickets ($15-53).
In Apple Valley, Roseville and Minneapolis: VocalEssence: Welcome Christmas. Each year, VocalEssence gives us something new and unexpected for Christmas: a world premiere commission, or a special piece of holiday music we haven’t heard before. This year it’s Conrad Sousa’s “Carols & Lullabies,” a lovely, luminous setting of the Christmas story that weaves in music of Mexico and the American Southwest, accompanied by harp, marimba and guitar. The concert also includes the 2016 Welcome Christmas Carol Contest winners by Sean Sweeden and Lee Blaske. 7:30 p.m. Dec. 3 at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 9 at Roseville Lutheran Church, 4 p.m. Dec. 10 and 11 at Plymouth Congregational Church. FMI and tickets ($20-40).
At Orchestra Hall: “Jingle Bell Doc.” The Minnesota Orchestra’s pops conductor laureate, Doc Severinsen turned 89 in July, but you can’t tell by seeing him strut across the stage in his outrageously loud jackets, or hearing him blow the trumpet like a man half his age. Severinsen will lead the Orchestra, the Minnesota Chorale, vocalists, a rhythm section (with Mary Louise Knutson on piano) and a handbell ensemble in a spirited program of holiday faves. 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16 and 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17. FMI and tickets ($30-75).
At the State Theatre: The New Standards Holiday Show. Now in its 10th year, this annual event starring the jazzy Standards – Chan Poling, John Munson and Steve Roehm – has always been a spectacle, and it’s always been a blast. Per usual, there will be a large supporting cast and a stellar lineup of surprise guests. 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 2 and 3, plus an all-ages 2 p.m. Saturday matinee. FMI and tickets ($25-100).
At the Ordway: “A Darlene Love Christmas: Love for the Holidays.” Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, hitmaker and music icon Darlene Love has been a star for more than 50 years, from the girl-group heydays to her time as an in-demand back-up singer and the present, when she’s currently on a tour schedule so fierce it would exhaust most 20-year-olds. Of course she’ll sing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 30. FMI and tickets ($38-111.50).
At Crooners in the Dunsmore Room: Christmas with Joey D. Hammond B-3 organ master Joey DeFrancesco gave a knock-out, sold-out show here in September, called the Dunsmore Room his favorite place on the planet and promptly booked a pair of return dates. With Dan Wilson on guitar, Jason Brown on drums, he’ll set his favorite holiday tunes on funky fire. Dec. 5-6, sets at 7 and 9 p.m. FMI and tickets ($25-40; $75 dinner show).
At Union Depot: Canadian Pacific Holiday Train. Over 750 feet of steel, diesel and twinkling lights, the CP Holiday Train will roll through St. Paul for a good cause: benefiting Merrick Community Services Food Shelf in St. Paul. Lit up for Christmas, it will stop at the Depot for a live concert by Juno Award-winning singer-songwriter Colin James and Canadian country singer Kelly Prescott. (The stage is a car on the train–cool!) Friday, Dec. 9. Free or $5 VIP tickets (proceeds go to the food shelf), but please bring a heart-heathy food donation. General admission opens at 5 p.m. Train arrival at 7:15 p.m., concert at 7:30, train departure at 8:10. FMI (be sure to read this).