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The Twelve Days of Performances

Princes, reindeer, doo-wop & an elf: Bring on the live holiday shows

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The Santaland Diaries with Todd Waite at The Alley Theatre Photo by Jann Whaley
Winter Wonderettes at Stages Photo by Bruce Bennett
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A Christmas Carol, complete with ghosts, at the Alley Photo by T. Charles Erickson
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Houston Ballet production of The Nutcracker Photo by Amitava Sarkar
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News_Sarah and the City_Dec. 2009_Sarah and the City_Dec. 2009_A Christmas Carol_A Ghost Story of Christmas_Alley Theatre
White Christmas
News_Nancy_Houston Ballet_Katharine Precourt_Linnar Looris_The Nutcracker

With December upon us, we all know what this time of year means for the city’s performing arts: Time to unleash the holiday shows.

Whether you’re the type of person who embraces the traditional performing arts fare like sugar on a plum or the someone who would like to find the ghost of Christmas Past’s grave and salt the earth, there’s live entertainment out there for everyone. In fact, there’s such a cornucopia, it’s a challenge to sort through all the performance offerings. So here’s a guide to the highlights.

For added holiday spirit, read it to the tune of what may very well be the most annoying Christmas Carol out there, "The Twelve Days of Christmas."

On the first day of Christmas my Houston gave to me: One sardonic Macy’s Santaland elf

For all those holiday haters trying desperately to hold on to their cynicism as joy and good will are forced upon us, this is the show for you. The Alley Theatre’s Todd Waite stars as Crumpet in David Sedaris’ Santaland Diaries, the tale of one brave elf’s adventure into the magical world of Christmas retail.

While Sedaris’ warped sense of humor drives the play, in past years, Waite’s occasionally ad-libbed Houston jokes and banter with the audience made Crumpet a hometown elf.

On the second day of Christmas my Houston gave to me: Two evil stepsisters

They’re scheming to catch a charming prince in Ensemble Theatre’s Cinderella. This is the second year Ensemble has produced the musical version of the fairy tale, adapted by the African American Shakespeare Company. With original music by composer Carlton Leake and a fairy godmother with “diva-tude,” this shoe might be the perfect fit for families.

On the third day of Christmas, my Houston gave to me: Three Irish tenors

On Dec. 7, Society for the Performing Arts brings Anthony Kearns, Finbar Wright and Ronan Tynan to town for a traditional Irish holiday performance. The PBS stars and chart-topping trio have three Christmas albums in their discography, so they should have many songs to choose from for the Houston stop on the tour.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my Houston gave to me: Four Winter Wonderettes

Last year’s musical, The Marvelous Wonderettes, was one of the most successful productions in Stages Repertory Theatre’s history, so it’s no wonder the Wonderettes are back. The 60s girl group arrives at Harper’s Hardware to entertain the employees, played by the audience, at the annual company holiday party. 

While the show is short on plot, the antics of the store’s absentee owner give the play a bit of added depth when viewed from our present economically unstable times. Otherwise, the slight plot is made up for by the characters’ charm as the Wonderettes attempt to sing in festive cheer with familiar and forgotten holiday classics.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my Houston gave to me: Five shows for people who hate holiday shows

Though they’re elusive, some intriguing plays and performances for mature audiences do exist this time of year.  Catastrophic Theatre brings Anna Bella Eema, “a ghost story for three bodies with three voices,” to DiverseWorks. Theatre Lab begins its 2011-2012 season with A Contemporary American’s Guide to a Successful Marriage @1959. Mildred’s Umbrella offers a showcase of short plays in their Museum of Dysfunction IV

Prefer your ballerinas to also be strippers? Try FrenetiCore’s Tenderina. Finally, if you’re still looking for a family show but avoiding a holiday one, Cirque du Soleil is back in town with Dralion.

On the sixth day of Christmas, my Houston gave to me: Six glowing, grizzly ghouls

The Alley Theatre has been channeling the ghosts of Christmas in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol since 1988. In recent years, James Black’s direction of Michael Wilson’s adaptation of the play has added many touches of the macabre. Along with the ghosts Past, Present and Future, a group of murdered and executed spirits taunt Scrooge.

Casting one actor (this year it’s David Rainey) to play both the ghost of Jacob Marley and Scrooge’s housekeeper Mrs. Dilber adds a twist to the Scrooge/Marley relationship. After a chained and bound ghost Marley orchestrates the psychological torturing of his old partner, the play ends with Mrs. Dilber and the newly reformed Scrooge flirting. Hopefully, they’ll next be visited by the ghost of Christmas Couples’ Counseling.

On the seventh day of Christmas, my Houston gave to me: Seven fairy tale characters singing '70s songs

Technically, it's six fairy tale characters — Little Red (as in Riding Hood), three little pigs, and Hansel and Gretel — plus the Astros’ first mascot, Chester Charge, who all sing disco hits as they work the night shift at the Wolf Corporation. In Stages’ Panto Red Riding Hood, it’s up to Red to stop Frank Sharpteeth Wolf’s attempt to foreclose on Grandmother’s house.

The world premiere maintains a nice balance of comedy and characters kids will enjoy with a sly tone and jokes the will swish right over children’s head while giving adults some big laughs. The moral of the story is do not mess with this granny.

On the eighth day of Christmas, my Houston gave to me: Eight reindeer flying

The journey of Dasher, Dancer, et al., will be recounted during Houston Symphony’s musical retelling of Clement Clarke Moore’s poem “The Night Before Christmas.” The morning concert will include an audience sing-along and a visit from Santa. No word yet if the ninth team member, Rudolph, will make an appearance in his own song.

On the ninth day of Christmas, my Houston gave to me: Nine violinists playing

Mercury Baroque presents two versions of Handel’s Messiah, a sing-along general admission performance that will encourage audience members to sit by voice type, and a complete performance of the masterpiece in its entirety.

Of course, Mercury Baroque’s Messiah isn’t the only version in town. The Houston Symphony has made their candlelight version an annual favorite for many classical music fans.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my Houston gave to me: 10 Irving Berlin songs

Ten songs per act, that is. Theatre Under the Stars brings to Hobby Center the stage version of White Christmas, the beloved Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby film. Two famous showmen attempt to save the inn of their former World War II commanding officer all while wooing a pair of singing sisters. Together they sing and dance their way through many of Berlin’s timeless songs. TUTS is also playing meteorologist for this production and promising there will be snow in Sarofim Hall.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my Houston gave to me: 11 Nutcracker princes leading a toy soldier army

Sure, there might be a war declared between team snow and team sugar plum, but everyone loves a Nutcracker Prince. And what’s not to love? He’s got the crown, fights giant rats, and have you seen his nuts?

Best of all, in reality there’s actually 11 princes. There’s so many performances of the Houston Ballet’s Nutcracker not even a dancing lord can leap through them all. Instead, 11 dancers, principals, soloists, demi soloists and a corps member will play the prince. Wills might be off the market, there’s enough princes left to go around.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my Houston gave to me: 12 months of performing arts in 2012

And when the curtain falls on the holiday season we can nestle snug in our beds with visions of a shiny new year of music and theater dancing in our heads.

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