Not only does this weekend kick off holiday shopping, it’s the launch pad for many theaters’ holiday-season shows. At the top of the tree is the Cincinnati Playhouse’s production of A Christmas Carol, which officially opens Friday at 7 p.m., after previews tonight (Wednesday) and Thursday. You know the 1843 story from Charles Dickens: Miserly old Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his former business partner and is shown visions by three spirits that teach him the true meaning of Christmas.
We don’t attend for something new, but rather because it’s so wonderfully familiar, like singing Christmas carols. The Playhouse’s spectacular production is back for its 27th season, and for many families it’s a treasured tradition. (Nearly 600,000 people have attended performances since 1991.) Bruce Cromer, one of our region’s best professional actors, has perfected the role of Scrooge. But he’s ably supported by a big cast and a spectacular production, bringing Victorian London to life. If you’ve never seen it, now’s the time. And if you’ve been before, I bet you’ll be returning. Through Dec. 30.
Another memorable acting performance is happening on the Playhouse’s Shelterhouse Stage, with Frank Ferrante in An Evening with Groucho. A great portrait of the legendary comedian, with the added dimension of quick-witted audience interaction. It’s onstage through Dec. 17 Playhouse tickets: cincyplay.com
If you’re looking for something more contemporary and exciting, Know Theatre opens its production of an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s 1996 novel Neverwhere on Saturday evening at 8 p.m. It’s an urban fantasy/adventure about an ordinary London businessman whose life changes when he helps “Door,” an injured young woman. His kindness lands him in London Below, a world of shadows, darkness and more. Gaiman is a beloved literary star whose wildly imaginative works span novels, comics, radio, TV and film. Know is also offering a gallery show of work by local artists, Everwhere: Art Inspired by the Works of Neil Gaiman. It’s on view throughout Neverwhere’s run, which concludes on Dec. 17. Tickets: knowtheatre.com
Elsewhere you’ll find The Adventures of Tom Sawyer onstage, a stage rendition of Mark Twain’s classic novel at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. It’s an entertaining production that’s family-friendly without being childish or cute. I gave it a Critic’s Pick. Through Dec. 19. Tickets: cincyshakes.com
At Newport’s Monmouth Theatre, Falcon Theatre is staging Poor Behavior by Theresa Rebeck, a Cincinnati native who’s become a well-established playwright in New York City. It’s the story of two couples on a weekend getaway: Their dinner party takes a difficult turn and has heated, unexpected results. Through Dec. 2. Tickets: falcontheatre.net
Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here weekly. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.