As we move into the famed most wonderful time of this most Bah Humbug of a year, Houston’s performing artists and art organizations have decided the holiday show will go on.
Yes, A Christmas Carol, The Nutcracker, and all the usually holiday suspects might come wrapped in unusual packages this December, but our local artists have rallied to deliver our favorite shows and stories to us.
Some of these shows are free and others ticketed, but most of these organizations and theater companies have been offering free performances, art, and entertainment since having to close their theater doors back in March, so please remember to give back as they continue to give to Houston.
Whether live streaming, recorded, in-person, or outdoors, let's take a look at all of the traditional shows and new surprises arriving just when we all could use a bit of holiday joy and magic.
Holiday at the Hope’s: A Christmas Mixtape from Stages (Ticketed streaming, now through December 13)
In ancient times before podcasts people, told stories and performed music on this thing called a "radio." Now, Stages takes us back to holidays long ago with a radio play offering — but you won’t have to buy one of those fancy old-timey giant voice boxes to experience the magic. Married team Ben Hope and Katie Barton Hope, who starred in Ring of Fire and Hank Williams: Lost Highway at Stages, create an audio play based on their own journey buying a house for the first time. Expect lots of home-style holiday songs and stories about family celebrations.
A Christmas Carol from Alley Theatre (free streaming, now through December 27)
This adaption by Doris Baizley sets up a premise perfect for virtual performances, framing the Dickens classic with a story of a traveling theater company going through hard times and needing to do put on a barebones production of the haunting, yet heart-warming tale. Alley company actors get meta as actors putting together a Carol from scratch.
David Rainey reprises his Scrooge, but in this adaption also plays the company-within-a-company’s stage manager. Meanwhile, the next acting generation gets a spotlight as married resident acting company members Elizabeth Bunch and Chris Hutchison’s son, Mack Hutchison, plays both the prop boy and Tiny Tim.
Herzstück or My Heart Hit the Floor & Shattered into 10,000 Pieces from Catastrophic Theatre (free streaming, now through January 31)
Perhaps especially in 2020, absurdist and avant garde mainstay theater company Catastrophic stays with their own beloved tradition with this film from company regular, Greg Dean, actor, writer, director, and self-admitted “local theater weirdo.”
Herzstück was inspired by a 14-line theatrical fragment by the late East German playwright, Heiner Müller. For those looking to take a break from all the streaming and broadcast holiday movies, you probably can’t find much counter than a project Catastrophic describes a "deconstruction of old, B&W silent film comedies — think Laurel & Hardy meets David Cronenberg.”
Merry Christmas Darling: Heidi Kettenring Sings Karen Carpenter at A.D Players (live performance December 10-23)
The company turns their parking lot into an outdoor performance space to bring Houston one of the few in-person productions of the season. The acclaimed Kettenring and her band will perform a mix of Karen Carpenter standards plus holiday favorites, including "Merry Christmas Darling," "Close To You," "For All We Know," and "The Christmas Song.”
“With ongoing concerns about growing COVID-19 numbers and the need for safety, we decided rather than cancelling everything, we would move our holiday programming outside,” explains artist director, Kevin Dean. “We have been continually pursuing the highest level of safety in everything we have done this fall, and want to provide people an opportunity to safely experience some much needed holiday cheer.”
The Making of The Snowy Day: An Opera for All from Houston Grand Opera (Streaming beginning December 10)
This world premiere holiday opera was commissioned by HGO with the original plan to produce to it this month. Now delayed likely for next year, opera-lovers can get a fascinating behind the curtain peek at how a contemporary opera is composed. This documentary explores the creative process of composer Joel Thompson and librettist Andrea Davis Pinkney as they transform the beloved children’s book by Ezra Jack Keats into opera for the whole family. The Making of becomes just one more bit of unique programming HGO brings to Houston and opera lovers across the globe with their HGO Digital project.
Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley and The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley from Main Street Theater (free live streaming December 11-20)
The Pride and Prejudice sequel and sequel to the sequel both written by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon have become the latest holiday tradition at Main Street. While MST crew can’t give us an in-person production this year, they’re bringing the Bennet sisters — Darcy and even that rogue Wickham — together via Zoom for weekend readings of the plays. MST has also been offering the monthly series “Main Street at the Mike” for a special on stage streaming show featuring some Main Street artists and local favorites. For December they’ve planned a special treat: 2020 Holidays: Passover through New Year’s. (December 17-20).
Very Merry POPS from Houston Symphony (live at Jones Hall and streaming, December 11-20)
Houston vocalist Chelsea Cymone joins former Principal POPS Conductor Michael Krajewski for this concert of traditional and contemporary holiday favorites. Cymone sings “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” while HS gets audiences in Jones and at home in the holiday mood with arrangements of the popular classic Christmas pop songs like “Feliz Navidad,” “O Holy Night,” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Streaming performs are on Saturdays December 12 and 19.
Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol presented by Society for the Performing Arts (streaming live December 12 and 19)
A different kind of Carol comes from Manual Cinema, the artists responsible for last year’s remarkable and innovative Frankenstein retelling that SPA presented last year. Manual Cinema will use music, paper puppets, miniatures, silhouettes, and vintage filmmaking techniques to create a tale told with color, light, and shadow. This world-premiere show will be performed live each night from their Chicago studio in a socially distant manner and streamed to SPA audiences live
Buttons' Sleeping Beauty: A One-Man Outrageous Unbelievable COVID Lockdown Panto from Stages (Ticketed streaming, December 15-27)
Not even a pandemic can keep Texas Panto down, as Stages artistic director Kenn McLaughlin wrote (book and lyrics) this special one-man version to both acknowledge and virtually escape these lockdown times. Stages Panto favorite Buttons (Ryan Schabach), the kind of everyman jester in previous original productions, uses puppetry and songs to spin different kind of Sleeping Beauty tale. Buttons receives across-the-pond help from very special guest and Panto regular, Genevieve Allenbury, who virtually brings some fairytale magic from London.
Nutcracker Sweets from Houston Ballet (Ticketed streaming, December 15-January 8, 2021)
Perhaps inspired by a gift box of holiday chocolates and candies, the Houston Ballet presents Houston with both an abbreviate version of artist director Stanton Welch’s The Nutcracker from 2018, as well as an offering of new solo dances featuring the HB company dancing to holiday favs like “Jingle Bells” by Barbra Streisand and “Santa Baby” by Eartha Kitt. The dancers were filmed one at a time in the Margaret Alkek Williams Dance Lab at the Houston Ballet Center for Dance under safety guidelines from Houston Methodist Hospital.
The Nutcracker: Larger Than Life at Houston Museum of Natural Science (on-screen, now through January 3, 2021)
For those who want a giant-sized version of Stanton Welch’s Nutcracker and are ready to head back into the HMNS’s newly-renovated Wortham Giant Screen Theatre, this will be the new way to keep holiday traditions alive. Clara, the Nutcracker Prince, Rat King, Sugar Plum Fairy, and all the international Sweet Kingdom ambassadors dance onto the huge HMNS theater screen.
Operating under strict COVID-19 protocols and cleaning procedures since the fall, the HMNS theatre gives audiences a 4K digital projection experience, producing nearly 8-stories high images, along with a six-track sound system, and new deluxe seating. These holiday dance visions have never reached greater heights.