Christmas follows fast on Thanksgiving's leftovers, which means sugarplums-and-treacle time for Chicago theater, when many troupes offer holiday shows. There are at least 40 of 'em, from biggies such as the 45th annual A Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theatre (the Mother of them all, running through Dec. 31), and Joffrey Ballet Chicago's spectacular The Nutcracker at Lyric Opera House (through Dec. 27), to intimate ones such as Trapped in a Holiday Musical!, a spoof offered by ComedySportz at Piper's Alley (through Dec. 17), and Black Ensemble's Christmas Cabaret, featuring the Black Ensemble's ever-wonderful musical talent (Dec. 10-18).
Despite the too-sweet nature of many of these shows, it's good news for the performing arts as our world-renowned theater industry continues the comeback from the long COVID shut-down. It's been tough, and theaters have not yet fully re-established their base of subscribers (who often are donors, too) or hit the single ticket sales numbers of pre-pandemic times. One hopes that drawing families back to the playhouses for a holiday show will both make the box offices jingle and will re-engage lapsed theater-goers.
The most comprehensive guide to holiday fare can be found online at www.chicagoplays.com, the website of the League of Chicago Theatres. Click on the link to their Holiday Theatre Guide for plays, musicals, dance, concerts and comedy. There's also a link to Hot Tix, the League's half-price ticket program. In the meantime, here are a dozen holiday shows which have caught our attention.
Shows for adults & LGBTQ+ interest
The Eight: Reindeer Monologus, Beverly Arts Center (in Beverly), through Dec. 17Jeff Goode's jaundiced take on the holiday spirit has become a holiday tradition; a wickedly-funny expose of what really goes on at Santa's workshop: exploitation, groping, sexism, manipulation, lies . . . and the elves are talking now! Recommended for 18-and-over.
The Hanukkah Comedy Show, Annoyance Theatre, Sundays only Dec. 4, 11 and 18The Annoyance folks describe this as a "celebration of Jewish culture that's open to everyone (except children)" in an hour of wild sketches and true stories, featuring "some of the funniest Jews in Chicago." December 18 actually is the first night of Hannukah this year. Will they give you a present?
Jack Off the Beanstalk, Pride Arts, through Dec. 18The folks at Pride Arts swear this show is filled with giggles for kids, and that only adults will get the double meanings . . . but we ain't certain, since it's an updated gay take on a traditional English holiday panto, not a silent show but a musical filled with familiar jokes, gags and physical business, such as a "grand dame" played in drag.
The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes, the Obligatory Holiday Special, Hell in a Handbag Productions at Center on Halsted Hoover-Leppen Theatre, through Dec. 30Speaking of drag, David Cerda and his fellow travelers are at it again, once more channeling Rose, Dorothy, Sophia and Blanche, this time facing the impending closing of the Shady Pines Retirement Community. Can the girls come to the rescue before Xmas? Will they dress for the occasion? Do bears shit in the woods?
Who's Holiday!, Theater Wit, through Dec. 30Cindy Lou Who, now 40 years old, returns to Theater Wit from her trailer camp to re-tell the sordid story of how she met the Grinch. You may think the Grinch was kid-friendly, ultimately, but Cindy Lou's encounter is strictly for adults!
The Buttcracker: A Nutcracker Burlesque, Greenhouse Theater Center, through Dec. 31Well, we wouldn't touch that title withuhh a 10-inch pole, but you can follow Clara and her buttcracker into an immersive experience featuring a rotating cast of 25 performers, drawn from the best of Chicago's current burlesque artists, male and female, in drag and out.
Shows suitable for toddlers (really!)
The Beatrix Potter Holiday Tea Party, Chicago Children's Theatre, through Dec. 24Bring the wee onesages 2-6 are recommendedto meet beloved Beatrix Potter characters, with levers to pull and handles to crank for the kids, original music, puppets and even chocolate milk and cookies! There are two matinees every Saturday and Sunday morning.
Hershel and the Hannukah Goblin, Strawdog Theatre at The Edge (in Edgewater). Dec. 11-31Based on the award-winning children's book, this one-hour adaptation with songs and balloons is another show suitable for toddlers. Set in a town in the Old World (coincidentally, in the Ukraine), it's the tale of a goblin who tries his best to ruin the holiday, kinda-sorta like a Jewish Grinch. We're betting that Hershel can outsmart him!
Non-standard choices, but in-the-spirit
Season's Greetings, Buffalo Theatre Ensembler at McAninch Arts Center (Glen Ellyn), through Dec. 18British farce master Alan Ayckbourn cooks up a holiday messin the best waywith a puppet show from hell, a tryst under the Xmas tree (not with Santa) and a murder . . . maybe. Did the butler do it in the conservatory with a fruitcake?
Twelfth Night, Midsommer Flight at Lincoln Park Conservatory, through Dec. 18Shakespeare wrote his evergreen, rollicking romantic comedy for the Christmas season, so bring your holiday spirit. Midsommer Flight has been offering an environmental production of it for several years, this time amidst the toasty greenery of the Lincoln Park Conservatory. What a treat!
The Christmas Schooner, Beverly Arts Center (Beverly), Dec. 8-11 onlyIt's too short a run for this true sweetheart of a musical, once a holiday staple but not seen for many years. Set in the late 1800s, it's the true tale of the sailing schooner which once brought Xmas trees to Chicago, down the lake from the North Woods, and the hearty family who made their annual visit a local tradition. It's a bittersweet tale, but filled with love and warmth.
The Steadfast Tin Soldier, Lookingglass Theatre at Water Tower Pumping Station, through Jan. 8Lookingglass returns to its annual holiday show; a family spectacle (ages 5 and up) based on Hans Christian Andersen's story, and filled with music and movement in this adaptation by Mary Zimmerman about a little toy soldier who won't give up.
Little Women, First Folio Theatre at Mayslake Peabody Estate (Oakbrook), Dec. 14-Jan. 15A world premiere stage adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's literary classic about the trials and triumphs of the close-knit March Sisters, as they forged new paths for women in 19th century America. Not strictly a holiday story, its first part does open and close at Christmas time. Also, the neo-gothic Peabody Estate should give the staging plenty of atmosphere.
For those of you who may prefer the tried, true and traditional, you will findaccording to the Holiday Theatre Guidesix versions of A Christmas Carol, five versions of The Nutcracker, two productions of A Christmas Story, the Musical, two concerts of Handel's Messiah, two live radio play versions of It's a Wonderful Life, two productions of Elf the Musical . . . and a partridge in a pear tree!