by Anthony Chase
Going to the theater during the days leading up to the December holidays is a great tradition in the English-speaking world. From Christmas pageants, productions of The Nutcracker and A Christmas Carol, right down to the inevitable winter mysteries and ghost stories (with A Christmas Carol falling into both the Christmas and ghost story categories), generations of downtown shoppers would take a break to catch a matinee, or Grandma would help get the children out of the way by whisking them away for a memorable outing.
Downtown shopping areas may be a thing of the past, but the winter theater-going tradition endures.
Naturally, a theater scene as lively as Buffalo’s offers plenty of holiday fare.
Alleyway Theatre will offer its 28th annual presentation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, adapted and directed by Neal Radice, starring John Smeathers, Syndi Starr, Katy Clancy, Roger Van Dette, Christopher S. Parada, David C. Mitchell, and Joyce Stilson, from December 9-19. This version faithfully follows the familiar story, and is chock-a-block full of Christmas carols as well.
Variations on the story can also be seen at Ghostlight Theatre in North Tonawanda, through December 19. Scrooge the Musical is being done at the Palace Theatre in Lockport this weekend. Christopher Durang’s deranged take on the story can be seen in Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge, at the Woodbox Theatre, in the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center, through this weekend, presented by the Western Door Playhouse, directed by Linda Silvestri.
This is the final weekend of James Joyce’s The Dead at the Irish Classical Theatre Company, a handsome and sentimental play with music by Richard Nelson and Shaun Davey, directed by Derek Campbell, with wonderful performances by a first-rate cast: Brian Riggs, Cassie Gorniewicz, Sharon Strait, Emily Elkin, John Kaczorowski, Sheila McCarthy, Matt Witten, Ellen Horst, Doug Crane, Valerie Yawien, Wendy Hall, Lou Colaiacovo, Emily Tworek-Helenbrook, Jason Bravo, and Mary Ramsey, with an incandescent performance by Debbie Pappas.
Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some), a comic homage to the holiday genres by Michael Carleton, James FitzGerald, and John K. Alvarez, is being presented by Creative Allusions Productions at Lancaster Opera House this weekend as well.
A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Music of Vince Guaraldi, a concert presentation of music used in the beloved animated television special can be seen at Road Less Traveled Productions, directed by Doug Weyand, starring Bonnie Jean Taylor and a cast of children, through December 19.
Add to the mix Home for the Holidays, a world premiere play with music by Jason R.Bek, presented by Theatre in the Mist, in Lewiston. Spoken Carols on a Starry Night a staged play reading of Mark C. LLoyd’s A Coffee House, proceeded by an open poetry reading and holiday songs, can be seen at Rust Belt Books on Allen.
The murder mystery genre, so popular in England, is represented by a single entry, Murder Squared, a world premiere homage to the short television fiction presented by Alfred Hitchcock, written by Gary Earl Ross and presented by Ujima Theatre Company, through December 19. In addition to being playfully clever, these are delightfully fun and entertaining.
We all celebrate the holidays in our own way. New Phoenix Theatre on the Park embraces the season with Our Song, the American premiere of Keith Waterhouse’s celebration of self-destructive marital infidelity with an inappropriately younger woman, directed by Robert Waterhouse, starring Richard Lambert, Kelly Meg Brennan, Christian Brandjes, Jeffrey Coyle, Guy De Federicis, and Pamela Rose Mangus, with the comic genius of Bethany Sparacio.
The Kavinoky Theatre is finishing up its run of the Noel Coward classic comedy Present Laughter, starring David Lamb and an impressive roster of Buffalo actors: Eileen Dugan, Josephine Hogan, Robert Rutland, Kathleen Betsko Yale, Lisa Vitrano, Michele Marie Roberts, Joseph Demerly, Gerry Maher, David Lundy, and Tess Spangler. They then embark on their charming production of It’s a Wonderful Life: A live Radio Play, based on the Frank Capra Film, running from December 16-19. This production is a particular favorite of mine.
BUA, naturally celebrates the holidays with a play about gay rights: The Temperamentals by Jon Marans, directed by Chris Kelly and starring Ryan F Cupello, Christopher LaBanca, Adam Rath, Marc Sacco, and Michael Seitz, through this weekend. This will be followed by The Pipes Are Calling: An Elegy to Dan Higgins, Sr., written and performed by Matthew Crehan Higgins, a witty and sentimental account of his grandfather’s last days.
For those who like musicals at holiday time, Shea’s is delivering a blockbuster, the national touring production of Michael Bennett’s classic megahit, Dreamgirls, which plays December 14-19. If you’ve only seen the movie, you haven’t seen Dreamgirls, a delectable backstage story about a girl group resembling the Supremes.
For many people, the holidays are time to travel, and New York City is both the Christmas and New Year’s Eve capital of the world. The last city in America with an astonishing downtown shopping area with eye-popping Christmas windows, the shows are equally amazing.
There is the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular, of course—complete with the Rockettes and a living Nativity (the theater has special facilities to accommodate the camels). But this year also offers Donna & Marie: A Broadway Christmas, and Elf, a Christmas musical based on the popular film. Pee Wee Herman has brought his show to Broadway for the holidays as well.
Theater-going enjoys a huge surge on Broadway during the holidays, so check listings for altered performance schedules.
A number of shows will cash in and then close right after the New Year, including A Little Night Music with Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch; In the Heights; Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, starring Sherie Rene Scott, Patti LuPone and Laura Benanti; Pulitzer-Prize-winning Next to Normal; and La Bête, starring David Hyde Pierce and Joanna Lumley of Absolutely Fabulous fame. The last of the Kander and Ebb musicals, The Scottsboro Boys—a marvelous and brilliantly haunting show—is not even making it to Christmas, and has posted its closing for December 12.
Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice starring Al Pacino and Lily Rabe in the most achingly moving production I ever expect to see in my life, also closes on January 9.
Among the new shows, Lombardi, a play about Vince Lombardi, the legendary football coach, is a particular treat.
You can still catch The Addams Family and La Cage aux Folles, and among long runs, Billy Elliott, Jersey Boys, The Lion King, Mamma Mia!, Mary Poppins, and Wicked.
Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, the gigantic $65 million musical directed by Julie Taymor, couldn’t miss the holiday trade and has started previews, after several delays, despite not being ready yet. Limited tickets are available through the holidays.
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