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Abe, Ebenezer, Crumpet and More

Take a sleigh ride around town for onstage holiday cheer

By Rick Pender · November 22nd, 2011 · Onstage
arts1_santaland diariesjoshuasteelemikkischaffnerJoshua Steele in the Santaland Diaries - Photo by Mikki Schaffner
It’s just about time for that magical season of holiday shows in Cincinnati — some tried and true, and some for the Grinches who don’t resonate with the good cheer that permeates the world through most of December. Let’s take a little sleigh ride around Cincinnati’s theaters to see what’s happening.

Our first stop will be at Know Theatre on Jackson Street in Over-the-Rhine, where Abraham Lincoln’s Big, Gay Dance Party begins to kick up its heels on Saturday. The Fringe-like show — Know Theatre is the purveyor of Cincinnati’s annual Fringe Festival — received its world premiere in San Francisco two years ago and its offbeat appeal has spread from coast to coast. 

It’s about an unorthodox fourth-grade Christmas pageant in Lincoln’s rural Illinois hometown. Thanks to some interpolations by the kids’ teacher that refer to an ambiguous relationship between Lincoln and his friend Joshua Speed, a firestorm flares up around questions of Honest Abe’s sexuality. The three acts give different characters’ perspectives on the story, with the order of the acts “democratically” determined by an audience member. (“What could be more American than that?” Know Theatre’s publicity asks.) Although this show has little to do with the holidays — I guess dancing is a holiday entertainment — it combines elements that are thought-provoking, laugh-out-loud funny and just what we expect from Know Theatre. (Through Dec. 23).

If you’re looking for something a tad less outrageous, I suggest you sled a block to the west in Over-the-Rhine to Ensemble Theatre for the world premiere of Snow White, the eighth collaboration between composer and lyricist David Kisor and playwright Joe McDonough, opening Nov. 30. ETC’s annual holiday musical fairytale is a show that kids and parents can enjoy, and this year’s digs back to the Brothers Grimm and their version of the story — no dwarves, in fact, but some “halflings,” half-human, half-animal characters who hope to escape a spell by a wicked queen. 

“At the heart of this story is the theme of redemption,” says Lynn Meyers, who’s staging Snow White. ETC’s production will be full of comedy and adventure, played out on a fanciful set with characters dressed in steampunk-inspired costumes.

(Through Dec. 31)

Some Cincinnatians feel they haven’t really celebrated Christmas unless they take in A Christmas Carol at the Cincinnati Playhouse. Dickens’ tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and his ghostly visitations on Christmas Eve has been a hit in Eden Park for two decades; 2011 marks its 21st year as a holiday offering. Bruce Cromer returns as Scrooge, a role he’s played for seven seasons (before that he was Bob Cratchit); the cast includes nine area kids. 

Director Michael Haney has been associated with the show since its first year (he, too, played Cratchit), and he says he loves “the rich and colorful language of the book ... that retain(s) the beauty and rhythm of the original prose.” If you’ve never seen it, you should go; once you’ve seen it, I bet you’ll want to go back. (Dec. 1-30) 

For another dose of authentic Christmas cheer, have the reindeer haul you across town to the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, where you can see White Christmas, based on the 1954 film with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney, 17 classic Irving Berlin tunes, lots of dancing and a feel-good ending. Two soldier buddies with a song-and-dance act follow a pair of singing sisters to a struggling Vermont lodge operated by their former army commander. (Dec. 1-23). 

Covedale presents shows for kids, too, and you should keep in mind Holiday Punch (Dec. 3) featuring the Frisch Marionette Company. Another good choice for the kids is Holiday Follies by the Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati at the beautifully renovated Taft Theatre, featuring lots of local references. (Dec. 2-4, 10-11)

David Sedaris’ account of working as a department store elf, Santaland Diaries, is fully qualified as a holiday classic, despite its cynical tone. New Edgecliff Theatre, performing in the Columbia Performance Center, has owned this one for several seasons, and it’s bringing back Joshua Steele, whose performance as Crumpet the Elf a year ago made Sedaris’ material fresh again. This year NET pairs it with storytellers recruited by True Theatre to share real-life monologues about the holidays under the banner of “True Christmas.” Each evening will be different — and fascinating. (Dec. 1-17)

If you only have time for one holiday show, Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!) from Cincinnati Shakespeare Company at Arnold’s Bar and Grill might be just the ticket. This one condenses a sleigh full of beloved holiday classics into one hilarious performance — the Grinch, Rudolph, Charlie Brown, a little Dickens and much, much more — in the popular downtown bar’s courtyard on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings (Dec. 4-28); dinner is additional but recommended for an enjoyable outing. A few performances are also scheduled for CSC’s Race Street theater (Dec. 22-23, 31). The company also offers an enchanting comedy of romance and rhetoric for the holidays, with young love vying for attention in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost (Dec. 3-31).

Two more choices as we skid to a halt: A Christmas Survival Guide (presented by Northern Kentucky University’s Commonwealth Theatre Company, Dec. 15-22) takes a look at the joys and stresses of the holiday season; it’s by the creators of another entertaining musical revue, I Love a Piano. And while Ebenezer Scrooge haunts the main stage at the Cincinnati Playhouse, Patsy Cline will sing her heartfelt tunes on the Shelterhouse stage in Always … Patsy Cline. It’s been a Playhouse hit before, and it’s sure to be popular again, so the Playhouse is offering it in a long run through the holiday season. (Nov. 23-Jan. 22) ©



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