Just a few more shopping days before Christmas. Theater is a great idea for last-minute gifts. Start a tradition that’s easy to repeat year after year. A trip to see a show is a wonderful gift, especially for kids. My earliest memory of theatergoing is my grandfather taking me to see the musical Brigadoon. I still remember it.
This week Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati is staging The Day Before Christmas (two final performances, 2 and 5 p.m. on Saturday) at the Taft. It’s set at the North Pole with Santa and the elves contending with chaos delivered by Jack Frost. Want something a bit more mature? Try the Playhouse’s A Christmas Carol (through Dec. 29) — or the musical version at Covedale Center (through Dec. 22) — or Ensemble Theatre’s musical rendition of Around the World in 80 Days (through Jan. 4).
For a stocking stuffer, you might consider tickets to a popular musical. For the fourth time, the Broadway Series brings back Wicked (March 5-23), the story of Elphaba, The Wizard of Oz’s supposedly evil green witch. This show, about growing up and finding yourself, is perfect for tween girls.
For someone who resists growing up, consider Cincinnati Music Theatre’s presentation of the classic musical Peter Pan (May 9-17). CMT is an excellent community theater that presents ambitious productions at the Aronoff’s Jarson-Kaplan Theater.
If kids aren’t your priority, perhaps you have a friend, partner or spouse who would enjoy a grown-up theater outing. The big news locally will be the tour stop of The Book of Mormon (Jan. 7-26 at the Aronoff Center), a winner of numerous 2012 Tony Awards.
This raucous romp from the guys who created the satirical animated TV series South Park plays fast and loose with religion. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s definitely not one for the kids. A better choice on that count would be Les Misérables at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music (Feb. 27-March 9).
For adults who prefer drama, CCM will offer a Tony Award-winner, Mary Zimmerman’s lyric spin through classical mythology, Metamorphoses (Feb. 6-9), directed by Ensemble Theatre’s D. Lynn Meyers. On ETC’s own stage in Over-the-Rhine, Meyers will present The Mountaintop (March 19-April 6), a two-actor show about Martin Luther King Jr., on the night before his assassination.
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company will stage the play most often dubbed the “greatest in the English language,” Hamlet (Jan. 10-Feb. 9). The tragedy about a prince who mourns and avenges his father’s murder gets turned inside out when CSC uses the same cast to present Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (Feb. 14-March 9). Tom Stoppard’s 1966 play shakes up Hamlet’s tale and presents it from the perspective of two bewildered minor characters.
A weekend trip for theater in another city can be a delightful gift. New York is the obvious choice with a handful of superb options available at the moment: Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan are performing Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (through March 2), and Cherry Jones and Zachary Quinto are featured in Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie (through Feb. 23). The fabulous British actor Mark Rylance is playing Richard III and the Countess Olivia in Twelfth Night in productions by Shakespeare’s Globe at Broadway’s Belasco Theater (through Feb. 16).
Really good bets for Broadway musicals are Tony-winner Kinky Boots and runner-up Matilda (both in open runs). But off-Broadway shows can be great, too. Consider Jeanine Tesori’s Fun Home (through mid-January at the Public Theater) or the Electro-Pop opera inspired by a slice of War and Peace, Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, with drinks and dinner at Kazino, a temporary club site near Broadway’s theater district.
A drive to the Windy City will get you old and new musicals by Stephen Sondheim at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier: Gypsy (Feb. 6-March 23) and the recent Road Show (March 13-May 4) overlap for two weekends in March. Steppenwolf Theater offers Nina Raine’s Tribes (through Feb. 9) (it shows up at ETC locally, Jan. 29-Feb. 16) or Mary Zimmerman’s The White Snake at the Goodman Theatre in May, based on a classic Chinese fable.
Don’t forget the annual Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actor’s Theatre of Louisville (Feb. 26-April 6). The best choice is one of the final weekends (late March and early April) to see a half dozen new scripts presented in rep. It’s a lot to take in, but I guarantee serious theatergoers will want to go back — making it a great annual gift!
CONTACT RICK PENDER: firstname.lastname@example.org