Despite the hard times upon us, you can still enjoy the holidays at a local theater. In fact, Charles Dickens — whose Christmas Eve tale of Ebenezer Scrooge helps many theaters in America balance their budgets — has become kind of a patron saint for the holidays. His Victorian England resonates with 2008’s world of foreclosures and unemployment. So how about a few timely (and even affordable) recommendations of holiday fare for the month of December?
This is the 18th year for the Cincinnati Playhouse’s excellent adaptation of A Christmas Carol, featuring Bruce Cromer. He’s been in the show since 1997, playing Bob Cratchitt for eight years; he’s now in his fourth season as Scrooge. A very physical actor, Cromer is funny and touching. The Playhouse employs lots of local actors, helping to sustain our pool of Cincinnati performers. A Christmas Carol opens Dec. 4 and runs through Dec. 30. (Tickets are $20-$43, but the Playhouse offers unsold seats for half-price on the day of performance. Students can buy seats for A Christmas Carol for $22 two hours before curtain.)
It’s no surprise that some actors get sick of ghosts and Tiny Tim. A disgruntled trio created Every Christmas Story Ever Told, a show about three actors who revolt at doing the Scrooge thing again. Instead they take a 90-minute jog through every holiday story and character they can remember. Cincinnati Shakespeare Company offers this one on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings (7:30 p.m., Dec.
14-30) in the heated courtyard at Arnold’s Bar & Grill downtown. You’ll be reminded of the Grinch, Rudolph, Frosty and many more. It’s adult amusement, and if you can afford only one evening out this season this one can replace a month of holiday shows. Tickets are $20; students get in for $15. (Dinner at Arnold’s, starting at 6 p.m. is available for an additional cost, of course.)
For something completely different, check out Know Theater’s A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant (Nov. 29-Dec. 27) in which an ensemble cast of nine kids, ages 11 to 16, tells the story of L. Ron Hubbard’s meteoric rise from struggling science-fiction writer to supreme leader of a highly profitable New Age religious empire. The show presents the teachings of Scientology with the candy-colored backdrop of a traditional Christmas pageant. It won an Obie Award as an outstanding Off-Broadway musical in 2004, strange as it sounds. Using Rock tunes, it tells Hubbard’s story using song, dance, puppets and kids. Strange, maybe, but a lot of fun, too. Especially attractive are $12 tickets. (In fact, that’s the price of admission throughout Know’s 2008-09 season.)
If you want a show kids will enjoy and learn from, your best bet is Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati’s holiday musical, Alice in Wonderland (Dec. 3-Jan. 4). It’s the third time at ETC for Joe McDonough’s script and David Kisor’s tunes. Several cast members from the 1998 and 2003 productions are back for memorable roles in the tale of a lost girl, a cool cat, a wild hare, a mad hatter and a tyrannical queen. Director D. Lynn Meyers calls Alice “a unique blend of mayhem and morals,” and the fractured fairytale is something kids can enjoy, but adults will have a good time, too. (Depending on when you attend, tickets are $29-$38, but kids get in for $16.)
Two other theaters have shows back from previous seasons, but they’re the sort of material that appeals to CityBeat readers. Both are economically priced with $20 tickets (get in for $12 with a student ID). First is David Sedaris’ The Santaland Diaries (Dec. 4-20), presented by New Edgecliff Theatre in a funky old church in the Columbia-Tusculum neighborhood. It’s based on Sedaris’ hysterical monologue about his real-life experiences as a Macy’s Christmas Elf.
If music is your thing, check out New Stage Collective’s Striking 12 (Dec. 11-31). It’s an Alt-Rock concert/holiday musical about an overworked New Yorker on New Year’s Eve whose lonely night is interrupted by a modern day Little Match Girl. The show blends of 21st-century skepticism with old-fashioned uplift. Make note: Striking 12 is an affordable New Year’s Eve outing, with music and a touch of culture — not a bad way to start 2009.