The holiday song has it that this is “the most wonderful time of the year.” That’s certainly true if you love holiday-themed theater. Some of what’s available in Cincinnati is family-friendly, while some of it takes some liberties with the holidays.
Ensemble Theatre offers the best bet for kids, with Cinderella. It’s a contemporary take on the familiar fairytale: Instead of an aspiring princess, Cinderella is a bookworm who wears glasses and prefers sneakers to glass slippers. Lucky for her, there’s a prince nearby who shares her sentiments. His dad the king is pressing him to find a bride, so everyone in the kingdom is lining up, including Cinderella’s manipulative stepmom and two crass, loud-mouthed stepsisters. It’s a familiar story, but told with some catchy tunes and a lot of humor.
Brooke Steele has the golly-gee demeanor that makes Cinderella adorable. As the stepsisters, Sara Mackie and Torie Wiggins steal most of the scenes they’re in; and Deb G. Girdler, who has excelled as ETC’s holiday villainess is in rare form as Brunhilda. There’s some good fun with Kate Wilford’s Gwendolyn. She’s not quite a fairy godmother, but she’s a “well-wisher,” full of good advice — with some twinkly musical accents to accent her pronouncements. ETC keeps Cinderella around until Jan. 3, so it’s a good post-Christmas opportunity when other theaters have started their long winter’s naps.
For a full-fledged traditional show, the Cincinnati Playhouse’s production of A Christmas Carol is the best choice, if only for Bruce Cromer’s animated performance as Ebenezer Scrooge. He convincingly evolves from angry miser to generous philanthropist in two hours, and he’s entertaining every step of the way.
But Cromer is not the only actor onstage: The Playhouse employs many local actors for this production, now in its 25th year — performers who are regulars at Ensemble Theatre, Cincinnati Shakespeare and elsewhere. It’s especially fun to see Greg Procaccino as Marley’s tortured ghost (and an overly familiar junk buyer), Annie Fitzpatrick as the flirtatious Mrs. Fezziwig, Ryan Wesley Gilreath as Scrooge’s put-upon clerk Bob Cratchit and Kelly Mengelkoch as the devoted Mrs. Cratchit. There are always lots of kids onstage, too; this year little Henry Charles Weghorst, age 6, is likely the most adorable Tiny Tim you’ll ever see. They’ll be performing until Dec. 30.
A show that’s tons of fun for mature audiences who no longer believe in Santa is Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some) at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. If you’ve ever laughed your way through any of the “Reduced Shakespeare” productions, you know the drill on this one: Among a trio of actors, Billy Chace and Justin McCombs decide they’re sick of A Christmas Carol, so they undermine the efforts of their more serious colleague Sara Clark who is eager to go full-Dickens by diving into all the Christmas stories, songs and shows they can think of. Their tomfoolery is egged on by a half-trashed Santa, the very funny Miranda McGee, who provides running commentary on what’s happening and gets the audience involved.
This one culminates in a short second act when Clark gets to dig into Scrooge’s story but is constantly diverted by Chace and McCombs, who tangle up the ghosts and such with Clarence the Angel from It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s a delightfully silly mash-up that has kept audiences entertained for a decade. It opens this week and continues until Dec. 27; it typically sells out, so if you’re interested, get your tickets soon.
Over in Price Hill at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theatre, you can see a production of he Rock musical Rent. It’s not exactly a holiday musical, nor is it one to take kids to see, but it does open and close at Christmastime — with “525,600 Minutes” in between as the bohemian artists struggling to keep a place to live and create battle with a stingy landlord, disease and poverty. There’s some great music in this show, and Cincinnati Landmark Productions has assembled a cast that does a fine, spirited job of performing. It’s around until Dec. 20.
CONTACT RICK PENDER: [email protected]