Looking for the perfect holiday gift for a loved one, perhaps including your dearly loved self? How about a present of Houston’s stellar performing arts. A night filled with music, comedy, dance and drama will never get regifted or thrown away to decompose in a landfill a year later. We’ve all been through some tough months recently and deserve a chance to forget our troubles and travel to far away times and magical worlds, if only for a few hours. Plus, buying that ticket to play our role as the audience helps to support struggling local theaters, artists and crews.
This year we have almost too many shows to choose from, so here’s our holiday performing arts guide to help you pick the perfect theatrical and musical experience to big to fit under any tree.
A Midnight Clear: A Musical Tale of Christmas, Stages Theatre (now through December 24)
I’m not revealing much of a spoiler that a happy ending awaits us in this world premiere musical from Stages’s artistic director Kenn McLaughlin featuring a trio nuns singing new music by David Nehlsas and new arrangements of old standards. Yet, the story and characters go through a cold Christmas night to get to that joyous ending, reminding audiences that we must hold fast to the light during those long winter hours of darkness.
Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, Main Street Theater (now through December 17)
In this holiday set sequel to Pride and Prejudice, the middle Bennet sister, Mary, gets her chance for bookish romance. Playwrights Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon and a fine cast keep an Austen sense to the story while maintaining a 21st century sensibility, giving dimension and sympathy to even the comic villains of the story.
Rhinoceros, Catastrophic Theatre (now through December 10)
For those theater lovers hating all the holiday-themed shows, count on those crazy avant garde kids from Catastrophic to go against the seasonal current. This year they bring to the MATCH Eugene Ionesco’s absurdest dark, anti-fascist comedy. Don’t miss some of Houston’s favorite actors as they let their inner animal loose in this tale of a small town whose citizens transform into rhinos.
Soulful Sounds of Christmas, Ensemble Theatre (now through December 30)
For sunny holiday fare, how about a theatrical trip to Florida and family fun at a soul food restaurant which also serves as the heart and gathering place of the community. With book, music and lyrics by Chika Kaba Ma’atunde based on a concept by Greg Williams, Jr, the show promises to put a little soul back into the weariest of spirits.
Panto Cinderella, Stages Theatre (November 29-December 31)
Almost a decade ago, Stages first introduced Houston to Panto, the wild, kid-friendly but occasionally slyly naughty retellings of fairy tale classics. Now after a successful annual run of original Texas Panto shows, the company goes back to the U.K. holiday traditional roots with the show that started it all, Cinderella.
A Christmas Carol, Alley Theatre (now through December 30)
Scrooge’s happy ending becomes all the more poignant this year as Alley Theatre artists and crew create a holiday recovery miracle, staging their annual December production only three months after Harvey devastated the Theater District, including completely flooding the theater's lower level Neuhaus Stage and damaging its electrical system. The Ghost of Christmas Future won’t seem quite so foreboding as the Hubbard Stage glows brightly in this Christmas present.
The House Without a Christmas Tree, Houston Grand Opera (November 30-December 17)
HGO continues to stage its own brand of Houston Strong in its makeshift-elegant Resilience Theater at George R. Brown Convention Center. The company's initiative to commission new works for the holidays goes on with this world premiere opera by Ricky Ian Gordon and Royce Vavrek. The House Without a Christmas Tree’s strong roots come from the classic 1970s movie and story by Gail Rock about a father, daughter relationship and the loss they share.
Reckless, 4th Wall Theatre (November 30 - December 16)
For adults needing some seasonal-themed comedy, look no further than Craig Lucas’s outrageous play about an extreme marriage breakup. Directed by Philip Lehl and starting Kim Tobin-Lehl, the laughs might taste a bit bittersweet, as this will be the last production for the innovative company and its co-artistic directors. The married team metaphorically brings all the walls down at the end of the year.
Very Merry Pops with Megan Hilty, Houston Symphony (December 1-3)
Broadway lovers can expect a treat when New York stage and television star Megan Hilty helps Houston into the holiday spirit. She joins principal POPS conductor Steven Reineke for beloved holiday classics, including special arrangements of songs from Hilty’s new holiday album, A Merry Little Christmas.
Lucinda y Las Flores De La Nochebuena, Opera in the Heights (December 2)
Part of the company’s children series, this Houston premiere of Evan Mack’s opera weaves together Mexican folk tunes and traditional Christmas carols. Houston native Edith Maldonado portrays Lucinda a girl who in the midst of family tragedy learns that beauty is in the giving.
Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, Rec Room (December 7-23)
Rec Room Arts' focus on creating innovative, concentrated work brings a stripped-down English version of Humperdinck’s opera into their Back Room space. A wooded installation set by visual artist Mina Gaber and set designer Stefan Aziz will allow the audience to immerse themselves in the folktale forest.
The Nutcracker Hometown Tour, Houston Ballet (Smart Financial Center December 10-23 and Hobby Center December 30 - January 6)
Another example of Houston arts resilience, the Houston Ballet takes its new version of the Nutcracker on a regional tour while we all await the reopening of the Wortham Center in the spring of 2018. Last year, Stanton Welch went back to basics and the original Nutcracker and the Mouse King story by E. T. A. Hoffmann to create this spectacular, rich take on the holiday staple.
Sleeping Beauty and Her Winter Knight, Theatre Under the Stars (December 12-24)
TUTS gets into the Panto act with a crazy retelling of the sleepy princess story. The show will certainly bridge the generational divide between parents and kids with a cast and music lineup that includes Seinfeld star John O’Hurley as “The King of Houston” and Disney Channel stars Garrett Clayton and Lauren Taylor, plus a contemporary score featuring the music of Aloe Blacc, Blondie, Bruno Mars, Jessie J, John Legend, Katy Perry, Mariah Carey, LMFAO, Pharrell Williams and Survivor.