Take your pick of holiday theater

'A Christmas Carol,' 'Cinderella: After Ever After' and more bring festive fun to local stages.

click to enlarge The cast of "Holidazed & Confused Revue" share the spirit of Christmas fun. - Photo: Mikki Schaffner
Photo: Mikki Schaffner
The cast of "Holidazed & Confused Revue" share the spirit of Christmas fun.
At this time of year, I’m frequently asked for holiday show recommendations. I see most everything, so it’s a logical question. But after 30 years of covering Cincinnati-area theater, I’ve seen many holiday shows over and over, so I might be a tad jaded. But I do have opinions to offer.

The most obvious choice is Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s A Christmas Carol. In its 26th year, you might think this production would be ready for retirement. Far from it. In fact, it looks as good as it did in 1991, when Howard Dallin’s adaptation debuted. It’s a gorgeous production with lots of special effects. I’ve seen renditions of Dickens’ classic Christmas story from 1843 elsewhere, but this one is my favorite. Rooted in Dickens’ own words, it’s full of joy and true to the original. 

Michael Evan Haney played Bob Cratchit back in the day, but he’s been the director for more than two decades. Actors come and go, but Haney’s steady creative hand and good heart have kept the show a watchable annual tradition. Several actors have been around forever (Greg Procaccino has the longest run, as Marley’s Ghost), but other roles — filled by local actors — are kept fresh with new talent. Bruce Cromer has played Ebenezer Scrooge for 12 years and he’s a wonder to watch, bringing subtlety to the tightfisted miser.

Almost as long as the Playhouse has staged A Christmas Carol, Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati has presented musical adaptations of fairytales by local playwright Joe McDonough with songs by composer/lyricist David Kisor. They tend to have a contemporary twist with lots of good-natured humor, some for the kids and enough to keep adults entertained, too. 

ETC has created eight of these shows, several of which have been recycled multiple times, but this year it’s a new one — a sequel to last year’s iteration of Cinderella — called Cinderella: After Ever After. Being performed through Dec. 30, it picks up where the 2015 show ended, with the title character and her prince on the brink of marriage. But “happily ever after” has gone off the tracks thanks to a manipulative stepmother, empty-headed, self-centered stepsisters and a king as miserly as Ebenezer Scrooge. Things end up happily, of course, and the production is perfectly polished with many of the actors who played these delightfully comic roles in 2015. Brooke Steele is a charming delight as Cinderella, and Tori Wiggins and Sarah Mackie as the stepsisters are such fun to watch they deserve their own show.

Theaters know that holiday audiences typically want to have fun, and several shows offer a sleigh’s full of hilarity. Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!) is back for its 11th year and is being presented through Dec. 31. Four Cincy Shakes stalwarts string together shtick from Ebenezer Scrooge to George Bailey, with many stops along the way for Frosty the Snowman, the Grinch, Charlie Brown and more. It’s about actors weary of A Christmas Carol. Sara Clark’s traditionalist strives to keep things on track while Billy Chace and Justin McCombs do their damnedest to go off on amusing tangents. Meanwhile, Miranda McGee sits to one side of the stage as “Drunk Santa,” offering wry remarks and teasing audience members. 

This will be the final production of the annually sold-out show at Cincy Shakes’ Race Street location. It’s likely to return in 2017 at the company’s new theater in Over-the-Rhine, which is scheduled to open in September, but it’s likely to be newly staged with some cast changes.

If improvised humor is your thing, you actually have two choices. OTRimprov takes over the courtyard at Arnold’s Bar & Grill through Dec. 26 for Sunday-through-Tuesday performances of The Naughty List. They perform different new routines and fresh material each night. 

Or you can circle back to the Playhouse for the Shelterhouse presentation of The Second City’s Holidazed & Confused Revue. As the title implies, it’s tried-and-true scripted skits with a mix of audience engagement. Second City has been doing this kind of stuff for years, so you know you’re in for a lot of fun when you show up. In fact, this one has been so much in demand that it’s already been extended through Jan. 8. ©

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