Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Deck the Sets: Chicago Stages Go Holiday Crazy

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The Santaland Diaries at Theater Wit

By Zach Freeman

As any denizen of the theater who’s been in this town for any amount of time knows, Chicago DOES theater. With more than 250 active theater companies and a constantly growing number of venues, if you can’t find a good show to attend on any given night, you’re just doing it wrong. And this holiday season Chicago is really throwing down the gauntlet of performance options with more than forty (yes, you read that right) holiday shows. And yes, almost all of them are Christmas-related. In fact, there are almost a dozen versions of “A Christmas Carol” alone.

But Chicago is a diverse city and our theater companies reflect that. We’re not talking about several dozen versions of the same old stuff, we’re talking about more than forty completely different takes on the holiday season. It’s a lot for any one person to take in, so we thought we’d help you determine which show (or shows) you should be seeing over the next month or so to get yourself into the appropriate holiday mood (whatever that means for you).

We can’t list them all, but here are twenty to get you started. Here we go…

Genuinely Nostalgic? How about a live 1940s-style radio broadcast of a holiday classic? A popular Chicago standard since 2002, “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!” is presented by American Blues Theater at The Greenhouse Theater Center starting November 24.

Nostalgic (but with a hint of irony)? After last holiday season’s successful run of this behind-the-scenes look at the recording of a holiday radio show, Studio BE and 4 Days Late Productions are remounting “It’s a Wonderful Pro-Life” at Studio BE starting December 5.

Photo by Michael Brosilow

The Nutcracker at The House Theatre of Chicago/Photo: Michael Brosilow

Nostalgic (but with a hint of badass giant Rat King)? The House Theatre of Chicago has turned their emotionally charged and imaginatively realized adaptation of “The Nutcracker” into a seasonal standard, and for good reason. Mounds of fake snow, ukulele solos and a giant Rat King make this a unique version of a familiar story. Currently running at the Chopin Theatre.

Just Looking for Some Peace and Quiet? The title says it all: Silent Theatre Company’s “A Silent Christmas Carol” promises to reimagine the Dickens classic as a silent film on the stage at Prop Thtr starting November 30.

Looking to Pump Up the Volume? You saw The Q Brothers’ smash hit “Othello: The Remix,” right? The one that extended for months of sold-out shows? The one that’s currently touring the world? Well, those guys have created a “hip-hop adaptation” of “A Christmas Carol” that’s sure to have Scrooge spitting some Bah Hum-believable rhymes upstairs at Chicago Shakespeare starting November 30.

Going Interactive? Vicki Quade’s very funny “Late Nite Catechism” has been running for twenty years now at the Royal George Theatre and Quade’s turned her creative Catholic eye on the holiday season this year. Come in and attempt to win real prizes in this interactive show that features a game of Bingo centered around Christmas trivia. “Christmas Bingo: It’s a Ho-Ho-Holy Night” plays at the Royal George Theatre starting November 29.

Wryly Cynical? Who does wry cynicism better than David Sedaris? Theater Wit puts up “The Santaland Diaries” for the tenth straight year (with Mitchell Fain starring as Crumpet the Elf) starting November 22.

l to r: Khalil Lesaldo, Joseph W. Moore III, Megan Hickey and Paul Dillon/Photo by MICHAEL BROSILOW

Hellcab at Profiles Theatre/Photo: Michael Brosilow

Just Straight-up Cynical? In 1992, Joliet-native Paul Dillon originated the lead role in the world premiere of Will Kern’s “Hellcab.” More than two decades (and a feature film version of the play) later, he returns to Profiles Theatre, as part of a cast of thirty-four, to reinhabit the role he created. Currently running.

Into History (in the Literary Sense)? Relive Truman Capote’s childhood in Alabama in “A Christmas Memory and the Thanksgiving Visitor,” adapted and directed by Timothy Gregory from Capote’s short stories at Provision Theater. Currently running.

Into History (in the Literal Sense)? Listen to classic songs while you eat figgy pudding, drink wassail and add an extra “e” to words like “old” at Theo Ubique’s recreation of olde-time madrigals, “A Very Merry Madrigal,” taking place at the No Exit Café starting November 23.

Looking to be Inspired by the Power of Love? Black Ensemble Theater has made a name for themselves with a host of impressive musicals. Now they’re expanding to put on this “dancesical!” Described as “an original African Fairytale,” “Once Upon a People (A Dancesical)” features music, dancing and spoken word to tell the story of a Prince and Princess in the mystical land of Mirah, starting December 15.

Like Spectacle? The Goodman Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol” has been running for almost four decades. If you’ve caught it before, you know you’re in for a treat. If you haven’t seen it yet, this is a good year. Chicago stalwart Larry Yando is reprising his role as Ebenezer Scrooge for the sixth time and The Goodman promises “lots of new magic.” Easily the biggest Christmas show in Chicago, there’s a reason this show is in its thirty-sixth year. Currently running.

A Very Merry Madrigal at Theo Ubique/Photo by David Heimann

A Very Merry Madrigal at Theo Ubique/Photo: David Heimann

Like Uber-Cultured Spectacle? Deemed “America’s #1 ‘Nutcracker,’” Joffrey Ballet’s production features unparalleled dancing and Tchaikovsky’s score played by a full live orchestra. This is another Chicago tradition that has secured its place in the season for good reason. Witness it at Auditorium Theatre starting December 6.

Like More Offbeat Spectacle? Redmoon brings the unique brand of spectacle that they’ve perfected over the last two decades to “Winter Pageant,” a story about “a brave pigeon’s unlikely quest to return light to a magical world of birds.” See what shadow puppetry, overhead projectors and giant machines can bring to your holiday season starting December 13.

Just So Over That Dickens Show? Sure a lot of companies put on “A Christmas Carol” (with good reason), but you’re just so over it. Ever heard of this other little Dickens Christmas show? Remy Bumppo Artistic Director Nick Sandys adapts and performs “The Chimes” at the Greenhouse Theater Center starting December 21.

Like Maple Syrup on Everything? Will Ferrell made the character of Buddy the Elf a modern classic and Broadway in Chicago is hoping that the love for that movie will translate to the stage. Reviews from the Broadway run last year seem to imply that it does. Check it out at the Cadillac Palace Theatre starting November 26.

(l to r) Danielle Plisz and Scott Duff/Photo by Cheryl Mann

We Three Lizas at About Face Theatre/Photo by Cheryl Mann

Like to Play Dress Up? This (very) loose “A Christmas Carol” adaptation/spoof features three Liza Minnellis (what-was, what-could-be and what-the-f*?!) helping a down-on-his luck guy out. Completely revamped with book and lyrics by Scott Bradley and music and additional lyrics by Alan Schmuckler, About Face Theatre’s “We Three Lizas” hits Stage 773 starting November 27. (Also see the Joan Crawford send-up “Christmas Dearest” from Hell in a Handbag Productions starting December 1

Not Over Halloween Yet? Does it seem like Christmas décor goes on sale before Halloween has even passed these days? Fight back and put a little Halloween in your Christmas with “Silent Night of the Living Dead,” a zombie-filled Christmas show by New Millennium Theatre Company at Studio BE starting December 6.

Hometown proud? Sure, it’s Christmas all over the place, but maybe you want to be reminded about the great city you’re sitting down to a holiday show in. The Fine Print Theatre Company’s comedic take on Chicago boasted a sold-out run last year so get into “Christmas in Chicago” at Profiles Theatre Alley Stage starting December 13.

Beyond Nerdy? For the fourth year, Commedia Beauregard and the IKV Spirit of Honor of the Klingon Assault Group present an adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” presented entirely in tlhIngan Hol (the Klingon language) with English supertitles. Can Scrooge become the warrior he was meant to be? Find out at Raven Theatre starting November 30.

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