The holidays offer a perfect time to go to the theater with local productions for theater fans from wide-eyed kids to old cynics. Some shows are familiar, like a visit with old friends, while others spruce up an old story with some new garland — and perhaps a sprig of twisted sass.
A great choice for everyone in the family happens at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati: Cinderella (Dec. 1-31), a musical that’s a fractured fairytale rendition of the familiar story. She’s a nearsighted bookworm in this version and not very interested in romance. She has the requisite pair of nasty stepsisters and, of course, a nasty stepmother — as well as a well-wishing fairy godmother. But the show by playwright Joe McDonough and composer David Kisor is also about how being smart can be attractive.
Staged by D. Lynn Meyers, these shows each holiday season entertaining kids and offer subtle humor that adults love, too. Cinderella is time-tested, having graced ETC’s stage in 2000 and 2005. The show is a showcase for local actors, as well as some of ETC’s aspiring interns on their way to professional theater careers.
The most tried and true of old friends is A Christmas Carol (Dec. 2-31) at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, back for its 20th year. It’s an excellent re-telling of Ebenezer Scrooge’s night with the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come. It’s performed on a miraculous set with turntables and trap doors, constantly moving and dazzling.
If you’ve seen it before, you know it’s populated by many local actors who return year after year — some have been doing this show almost every holiday season for two decades.
Scrooge also pays a visit to Northern Kentucky University in the latter half of December when the Commonwealth Theatre Company presents a dinner-theater version of Dickens’ famous curmudgeon. Scrooge’s Christmas (Dec. 16-22) is a fast-paced and high-energy retelling of A Christmas Carol that sounds suitable for the whole family.
Another visit with old friends will be onstage at Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, where they’re offering a musical version of A Christmas Story (Dec. 2-22) featuring Ralphie and the gang. Be careful or you’ll shoot your eye out — and probably laugh so hard you’ll break a rib.
New Edgecliff Theatre brings back another familiar character every holiday season when it presents The Santaland Diaries (Dec. 2-18). This one is not for the kids, but the one-man show which recounts David Sedaris’ experience as a department store elf is hilarious, and, with the right actor, it’s a memorable evening. For 2010, talented local Joshua Steele has been cast, and he should do a bang-up job with this sardonic piece.
A new choice this season is A Wrinkle in Time (Nov. 27-Dec. 23) at Know Theatre. Many people cite Madeleine L’Engle’s beloved children’s book as a favorite, so I’m guessing this adaptation by John Glore will be popular. It’s set on a dark and stormy night when a brother and sister encounter a trio of strange women who whisk them away to a distant planet to rescue their missing father. It’s directed by a Cincinnati Fringe regular, Jason Ballweber, from Four Humors Theatre in Minneapolis, who has a fine touch for engaging storytelling.
For some classic fun, Falstaff and some seriously funny actors at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company will be onstage for the holidays in The Merry Wives of Windsor (Nov. 26-Jan. 2). This humorous romp with one of Shakespeare’s most amusing characters will be staged with a timely twist, setting the action in the American Midwest of the 1950s, with a soundtrack of Doo-Wop and Lounge vibes.
If one Christmas story isn’t enough, you might want to check out Every Christmas Story Ever Told (Dec. 5-28), another offering from Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, back for the fifth season at in the courtyard at Arnold’s Bar & Grill downtown. This is a very funny piece that’s a mash-up of traditional stories from Frosty the Snowman and Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer to the Grinch and Charlie Brown. It’s pretty cynical — a drunk Santa is a running joke, and Charles Dickens takes his lumps — but it might be just the right choice for a group from the office.
Happy theatrical holidays!