With another holiday season upon us, it’s time to make that difficult choice, traditional or new. I’m not contemplating decorating or gift giving but that most important annual entertainment decision: Do we see that Christmas show we’ve seen every year since childhood or try something different?
Practically every performing arts institute and organization is offering up holiday music, dance or theater so there’s something out there for everyone. So if you're looking for the performance that's right for you, check out our naughty and nice show list to plan those vibrant holiday nights and matinees.
The Case for Nice and Traditional
I’ve long gone on record with a resounding “Humbug” when it comes to the same annual holiday shows, but if there’s any year to go old school, 2015 is probably it.
The Alley Theatre brings their Michael Wilson adaptation of A Christmas Carol back to the newly renovated Hubbard Theatre. So who knows what happens when those Ghosts of Christmas have more room to roam on the expanded stage?
Classical Theater Company goes back to the Carol basics, in this case Dickens original short story. CTC’s version adheres to the bleakness of the Dickensian London so the true moments of light and love in the story shine all the brighter.
If you don’t feel like venturing inside the loop, Queensbury Theatre has a one-man Christmas Carol to light up that Christmas spirit into your Energy Corridor life.
The Houston Symphony has plenty of holiday music from Handel’s Messiah to their Very Merry Pops concerts. They’re also offering A Frosty & Frozen Christmas concert where the one song that united tweens around the world, “Let It Go,” gets a full orchestra rendition.
Something of a new tradition is Houston Grand Opera’s The Little Prince, which was first commission in 2003. While Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s classic children’s story of the friendship between an alien boy and a crashed pilot stranded in the desert might not immediately call to mind Christmas, CultureMap's own Theodore Bale says “the general sense of the fantastic makes it kind of a gift to children and adults.”
The don’t-miss performance for traditionalist this year will undoubtedly be Houston Ballet’s Nutcracker. Yes, Houston Ballet has depicted Clara’s magical journey to the Land of Sweets for 44 years, though I think the whole saga might be one long bad, eggnog induced hallucination. But this year will be the final production of Artistic Director Emeritus Ben Stevenson’s choreography of the Tchaikovsky classic. Houston Ballet first staged the Stevenson version in 1987, so there’s many a dance lover that grew up with this rendition.
Don’t worry that 2016 might be devoid of a Sugar Plum Fairy and her dancing minions. A brand new Stanton Welch version, featuring all-new sets and costumes, will debut next year.
The Case for Something Naughty and New
While there’s comforting familiarity in attending a play or ballet that’s become a multigenerational holiday custom, I argue December is a great time to sample a new-to-you performing arts or theater company from the safety of a holiday show. So here are a few new productions for an adventurous end of 2015.
Panto Snow Queen: Unfrozen
Every year, Stages Theatre bridges the holiday show traditionalists vs. new stuff divide by producing an original Panto play. Stages usually gives the British genre of fairytale inspired theatrical silliness that’s put on during the holiday season a decidedly Texas twist. This year’s Panto, Unfrozen, is as goofy as ever with interactive opportunities for the kids to yell at the scene-stealing villainous Snow Queen and topical jokes for adults. There’s even a special guest from Disney Corp. to belt out cease and desist orders if the story strays too close to Frozen territory.
Weird double Disney/Stages crossover trivia: Stages Panto regular Genievieve Allenbury, playing “herbalist” hippy Bean Mogul in Unfrozen, also plays the Queen of Valencia on ABC’s hilarious Medieval musical series Galavant. The second season debuts in early January, just a few days after Allenbury takes her last bow as BM.
If you haven’t had enough modernization of the dark fairytales of Hans Christian Anderson (read the originals, whenever you feel your life is too happy), TUTS Underground has an indie rock version of the Little Match Girl fairytale. That’s the fun one where the little girl freezes to death. In this retelling, the girl is a woman selling Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD) lights and the three actors playing all the characters are also the on-stage band playing piano, drums and a six-string Viper violin. This might be the edgiest holiday show of the lot.
For parents who want to take the kids to something classic but new this year, TUTS also brings us A Christmas Story, the musical based on the 1983 movie based on 1966 novel by Jean Shepherd In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash that reveals the true meaning of Christmas, BB guns and lying to your mom.
The Twelve Dates of Christmas
Usually the men get to have all the life introspection angst in holiday entertainment–think Scrooge or Wonderful Life’s George Bailey — but this year one sister is anxiety-attacking for herself in Bayou City Theatrics’ one-woman show The Twelve Dates of Christmas. When New York actress Mary sees her fiancee making out with another woman on television at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, it sends her into a 12 month rebound dating spiral. Funny and poignant, the play is something of a bitter but comic Christmas treat if other super sweet holiday tales have sent you into theatrical sugar shock.
Three Holiday Refreshers
Though they might seem familiar, three theater companies are bringing back some favorite shows with a promise that they’ve gone through a rewrite. Horse Head Theatre Company throws its Holiday Huzzah celebration again, featuring Houston playwright Abby Koenig’s biographical The Jew Who Loved Christmas with changes to the ending to reflect another year passed.
Stark Naked Theatre brings back last year’s world premiere, Ho Ho Humbug, as a 2.0 update. The play’s creator, Scott Burkell, who also plays the grumpy department store Santa, cut the two-act play into a 90-minute version with a new ending.
Meanwhile, over at AD Players, the fan favorite one-act A Christmas of Many Parts by AD founder Jeannette Clift George and Kevin Dean has become a full length show about the cast of actors in the full length Christmas extravaganza, Nativity!