People often ask me to recommend the best holiday show. I can’t do it. Everyone has different tastes. You need to think about what appeals to you and choose accordingly. Cincinnati theaters offer lots of options.
Many people prefer traditional shows. That’s why certain movies come back year after year — It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story and White Christmas. Most of these have stage adaptations, by the way, and Covedale Center is presenting the local premiere of White Christmas this month with lots of familiar Irving Berlin tunes.
Charles Dickens is the patron saint for theater administrators, thanks to his 1843 tale of Ebenezer Scrooge. Many theaters produce profitable versions of A Christmas Carol to attract audiences yearning for Victorian cheer, and the Cincinnati Playhouse offers one of the best. Having seen it annually for 22 years, I pretty much know it by heart. I anticipate favorite moments; no matter how often I see it, I tear up when Scrooge gets a peck on the cheek from his nephew Fred’s wife. The Playhouse uses gorgeous sets and costumes and employs local actors year after year. But director Michael Evan Haney keeps it fresh with a few clever new touches annually. It’s just what tradition-lovers want to see.
Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati takes a different approach. For 14 years, it’s offered a musical fairytale with a sensible moral and lots of humor. (ETC commissions local composer David Kisor and playwright Joe McDonough to create these shows.) Several titles have been recycled, but audiences can depend on a well-crafted annual production that entertains young and old without repeating the same show year after year. For 2011 it’s a new title, Snow White (see review on page 28.)
A few theaters follow a different tradition with shows that poke fun at the holidays. New Edgecliff Theatre has presented David Sedaris’ sardonic The Santaland Diaries in recent years, a production that relies on a single actor for the solo performance. (Talented Joshua Steele is back for the second year; he’s well worth seeing.) Cincinnati Shakespeare Company offers Every Christmas Story Ever Told at Arnold’s Bar & Grill, a mash-up of a bunch of familiar stories: the Grinch, Charlie Brown, Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman and even a bit of Dickens. The relaxed environment and a lot of ad-lib humor make it especially fun. Because such shows poke fun at traditional Christmas entertainment, often in an off-color way, they’re not for kids. But they can be a great evening out with friends.
Other theaters simply stage shows during the holidays that provide a happy evening out. (Not much drama onstage during December.) On the Playhouse’s Shelterhouse stage there’s Always … Patsy Cline, a pleasant revue of music by the iconic Country singer. Cincinnati Shakespeare offers a romp of romance and disguise in Love’s Labour’s Lost at its downtown Race Street theater (see review on page 28), and Know Theatre has assembled Abraham Lincoln’s Big, Gay Dance Party, a zany political satire with some out-there dance numbers featuring actors wearing beards and stovepipe hats.
The holidays are a time to get together with friends and family, and theater is a great vehicle for that experience. Traditional stories, shows that poke fun, productions that provide an excuse for an evening out— there’s a theater here in town ready to take care of you.
CONTACT RICK PENDER: [email protected]