A Christmas curmudgeon's guide to holiday theater: The only shows truly worth your time
You’ve gobbled down that Thanksgiving turkey, devoured those Black Friday bargains and consumed hours worth of Black Friday stampedes videos, and if you’re sophisticated connoisseur like me, especially savored the British shopping horde versions.
All this means only one thing, December is officially here and now it’s really time to get into the holiday spirit, Houston theater style.
Every winter, local theater companies pull out all the reindeer decorated stops to get butts into the seats for some live theater. After years of a complicated love/hate relationship with holiday shows, I’ve become CultureMap’s resident Christmas theater curmudgeon. But who could be better to help you find the perfect musical for the whole family or that hilarious satire to sooth those holiday blues?
So let’s take a look at your theater needs and questions (many of which I might have just made up) and find that perfect show for you.
Dear Holiday Curmudgeon: Why don’t people dress for the theater anymore? Houstonian theater-goers are a bunch of sloven Philistines. Also, why aren’t there more musicals starring live camels?
Concerned Citizen for Camel Actors
Dear Camel Fan,
Houstonian’s will dig out the red velvet and sparkling dresses for Christmas shows, especially musicals at the Hobby Center, so check out the Rockettes high kicking their way into H-Town for the Theatre Under the Stars import Radio City Christmas Show Spectacular. The Rockettes will present five new numbers and their traditional Living Nativity scene, starring baby Jesus, but more importantly I believe there’s the distinct odor of myrrh and camels wafting your way.
Dear Christmas Curmudgeon:
Are we in danger of depleting our most precious natural holiday resource, Ebenezer Scrooge versions?
Worried Christmas Caroler
No. Like sunlight, the bah humbugs are a constant renewable monetary source for theaters. Scrooge is infinite.
This year two new Scrooge clones have been spawned including an original adaptation from Classical Theatre Company (Dec. 9 to 23) that they’re billing as a back to basics, less spectacle and more actual words and dialogue from the original Charles Dickens tale.
Meanwhile, Houston Grand Opera goes back to Britain for the talent behind their world premiere A Christmas Carol opera (Dec to 21). The score is the work of up and coming young compose Iain Bell and the libretto by renowned stage and screen actor Simon Callow, who has played both Scrooge and Dickens himself in the past. Callow also directs the production.
Finally if you’re looking for Scrooge as a Houston institution there’s always (25 years worth of always) the Alley Theatre’s A Christmas Carol, now through Dec. 24, that’s heavy on the fog and horrifying ghosts to thrill the older kids. Yet, when director James Black casts the same actor — this production it’s returning hometown fav John Feltch — to play both Ebenezer’s chain-rattling tormenting, long-time “business” partner Jacob Marley and Scrooge’s flirtatious housekeeper Mrs.Dilber, adults playing close attention might wonder what kind of 50 Shades of Scrooge role-playing game they’ve wandered into.
Dear Christmas Curmudgeon,
Forget Christmas Carol. Give me Christmas carols and throw in some musical history while you’re at it.
Fa la la la la
Dear La La,
The secret origins of seasonal songs is trending this year onstage, with the AD Players world premiere of A Cardboard Christmas, now through Dec. 23, a play that boxes stories of the origins of some of the most beloved Christmas songs within a larger contemporary tale of a homeless family visited by a mysterious stranger.
Over at Ensemble Theatre two children go on a journey (could it be magical?) through time to discover the true soul of everyone’s favorite Christmas tunes in A Soulful Christmas, now through Dec. 21.
I hate Christmas shows.
Yours in Curmudgeon-ness
Dearest Fellow Grump
When my theater-loving soul has grown heavy with Tiny Tim/Sugar Plum Fairy ennui, I head to Stages Theatre for their holiday Panto show. The UK tradition given a Texas twist is a Santa-free, fairy or folktale spree with comedy for both adults and kiddies. If your entertainment speed is more Walking Dead than reindeer-pulled-sled, Panto Rapunzel (and Zombies) Dec. 4 to Jan. 4 should be the ideal show for you.
If, on the other hand, you want to commiserate with characters who likely also hate holiday shows, Stark Naked Theatre has what could be the most bitingly funny of the world premieres with Ho Ho Humbug (Dec. 4 to 24), as playwright Scott Burkell, who also plays the Santa-for-pay protagonist, tells the gritty true story behind the Macy’s Santaland glitter.
Dear Holiday Curmudgeon:
I want to be in holiday show biz. I’ll play any part or tell any embarrassing drunken Christmas tale.
Can you go all method and find your inner ox? Back over at Stages, one enthusiastic nun, who’s always wanted to direct, might just find the perfect role for you. Sister’s casting from the audience for her spectacular Nativity mystery reenactment in Sister’s Christmas Catechism: The Mystery of the Magi’s Gold. Word of warning: Absolutely no gum chewing when Sister directs.
Meanwhile, all your bizarre holiday yarns are welcome at Horse Head Theatre Company’s Holiday Huzzah! event on Dec. 13. First see how a great story is told when local playwright Abby Koenig reprises her one-woman show The Jew Who Loves Christmas, which she’s only performed once before, and then stick around for holiday story open-mike, raffles, games and “many cups of cheer.”