- Rick Aguilar
- Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer
ARFTCo's Another Year Without a Witty Title Chicago Christmas Spectacular! Local playwrights reveal their twisted relationships with the holiday season in this cheeky Christmas variety show directed by Michael Buino. The brief skits run from off-color carols to a hard-hitting North Pole newscast and a choir-robed ensemble singing, "On the first day of change the Democrats gave to me . . . " Highlights include "Gate B-28," a hilarious airport rant Samantha Garcia spits at an unlucky gate attendant. And in Rosemary Newton's witty parody, "Nancy Drew and the Clue in the Christmas Stocking," Nancy and her pals solve a caper with dated catch phrases and questionable sleuthing. —Marissa Oberlander Through 1/9: Fri-Sat 8 PM, Cornservatory, 4210 N. Lincoln, 773-418-4475, cornservatory.com, $12-$15.
The Best Christmas Spectacular! Since its debut in 2008, the Best Church of God has remained one of the city's funniest comedy outfits. Known for straight-faced fundamentalist worship services ("We read from the Bible so you don't have to"), the BCOG has also staged mock protests, parodying Westboro Baptist Church's "God Hates Fags" campaign by showing up at Westboro demonstrations with signs like "God Hates Signs, Exodus 20:4." Director Michael Descoteaux, who's also musical director for Second City E.T.C., says this will be the troupe's most ambitious show to date, with brand-new sketches and songs focused on putting the Christ back in Christmas. Instead of wreaths, expect a crown of thorns. And the pagan fir will be replaced with a "giving tree" hung with messages detailing what BCOG players want Jesus to bring them. There'll be an interpretive liturgical dance telling the Nativity story ("13-year-old Mary is raped by God," etc.) and an animated segment depicting kids exploring the holiday traditions of other religions. Audience members can stick around afterward to get their pictures taken sitting on Jesus's lap. —Ryan Hubbard Through 12/27: Sun 1 PM, Lakeshore Theater, 3175 N. Broadway, 773-472-3492, lakeshoretheater.com, Suggested $10 donation. C
A Christmas Carol Charles Dickens's classic holiday story. Through 12/24: Thu 3 PM, Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 Campbell, Arlington Heights, 847-577-2121, metropolisarts.com, $15.50-$28.50. C
A Christmas Carol The Goodman has roasted this Dickensian chestnut so long that audience members compare Scrooges (there have been seven of them) the way Bears fans rate quarterbacks. Now in his third year as the miserly curmudgeon, Larry Yando is at the top of my list. The spirits of Christmas ultimately nudge Yando's Scrooge over to the Light Side, but before they show up Yando evokes the character's great sin—his inability to see himself as connected to his "fellow passengers to the grave"—in the fearsome, strangled rage with which he spits, "I wish to be let alone!" William Brown's spry staging incorporates just enough pyrotechnics to awe first-timers without losing the deeply humane heart of this deservedly beloved tale. —Kerry Reid Through 12/31: Mon 7:30 PM, Tue-Wed 2 and 7:30 PM, Thu 2 PM, Sat 2 and 8 PM, Sun 2 and 6:30 PM, Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, 312-443-3800, goodmantheatre.org, $25-$74.
A Christmas Carol, the Musical This jolly musical adaptation of Charles Dickens's too-often-told story is energetic, high spirited, and mercifully brief at a little over an hour running time. The songs by Alan Menken and Lynn Aherns are delightful, if reminiscent of Menken's Disney work (Aladdin and Enchanted, among others), and the Marriott folks have resisted cutting costs on what could easily have been a mere cash cow. Packed with A-list local actors, the show is blessedly free of all those spooky moments—howling ghosts, ominous graveyard scenes—that scared the bejesus out of my eight-year-old when she saw Jim Carrey's new movie version. —Jack Helbig Through 1/3: Mon-Tue 10 AM and 12:30 PM, Wed 10 AM, Sat 10 AM and 12:30 PM, Sun 10 AM, no shows 12/24, 12/25, 12/31, or 1/1, Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, 10 Marriott Dr., Lincolnshire, 847-634-0200, marriotttheatre.com, $15.
Ha-Ha-Holiday Show Improv show by "some of the top improvisers in Chicago with years of musical improv experience." Through 12/26: Sat 7:30 and 9:30 PM, Laugh Out Loud Theater, 601 N. Martindale, Schaumburg, 847-240-0386, laughoutloudtheater.com, $12-$18.
It's a Wonderful Life: Live at the Biograph Frank Capra's 1946 film about George Bailey—a small-town businessman saved from suicidal despair by his guardian angel—is presented by American Blues Theater as a live radio drama, with actors at microphones reading from scripts while an onstage Foley effects man provides the sounds of slamming doors, chirping crickets, splashing water, etc. Hewing close to the brilliant screenplay by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Jo Swerling, and Capra, Marty Higginbotham's production transcends mere nostalgia-mongering thanks to deeply felt, carefully sculpted performances by a seasoned ensemble. As George, Kevin Kelly makes no attempt to re-create James Stewart's great screen portrayal. Instead, he delivers his own compelling interpretation of the role. His showdowns with avaricious banker Mr. Potter (a truly creepy performance by John Mohrlein, who also plays the angel) crackle with tension. —Albert Williams Through 12/27: Thu 8 PM, Sat 5 and 8 PM, Sun 2:30 PM, no show 12/25, Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln, 773-871-3000, victorygardens.org, $20-$40. C
It's a Wonderful Life: The Radio Play Like American Blues Theater's It's a Wonderful Life: Live at the Biograph, this American Theater Company show reimagines Frank Capra's classic movie as a live radio broadcast, turning theatergoers into a "studio audience." Jason Gerace's production conveys the message of human interconnectedness underlying the story of despairing small-town businessman George Bailey, whose guardian angel saves him from suicide by revealing his impact on the lives of everyone around him. Kareem Bandealy delivers a solid impersonation of the original Bailey, James Stewart. The supporting actors—including Alan Wilder, doubling as the angel and as Bailey's nemesis, mercenary banker Mr. Potter—deftly play multiple roles with spot-on changes in vocal characterizations. Although it never achieves the emotional impact of the ABT version, this is still a holiday charmer. —Albert Williams Through 12/27: Sat-Sun 3 and 8 PM, American Theater Company, 1909 W. Byron, 773-409-4125, atcweb.org, $30-$50. C
Joffrey Ballet Performing The Nutcracker. Through 12/27: Thu, Sat, and Sun 2 PM, Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress, 800-982-2787, joffrey.org, $25-$100.
Mark and Laura's Couples Advice Christmas Special The premise sounds like a prescription for cliche: a dysfunctional married couple take to the airwaves to help/horrify the nation with their unique brand of relationship counseling. But the cast embrace their offbeat characters so wholeheartedly that they pull off a minor Christmas miracle—a holiday-special parody that foregoes snark and mere cleverness in favor of hilarious humility. Improvising with assurance and flipping missed cues into jokes with implacable wit, Carrie Bain gives put-upon wife Laura a homespun authenticity. The result is a show that comforts and disquiets in equal measure. —Keith Griffith Through 1/20: Wed 8 PM, no show 12/30, Gorilla Tango Theatre, 1919 N. Milwaukee, 773-598-4549, gorillatango.com, $10.
Miracle on 34th Street This sweet little play-with-holiday-music pushes all the right buttons. It's pro kid, mildly pro family, pro Christmas without getting explicitly religious about it, pro Christmas shopping, and, of course, very pro Santa Claus. Like the 1947 movie, it asks the pop-theological question, What would happen if the real Santa Claus were to walk among us? (He would perform miracles and be persecuted.) The folks at Porchlight tell the story well, with energy and economy, and only a dash of sentimentality. Jim Sherman's Christlike Santa is more wise than jolly, which is refreshing, and Christa Buck is winning in the Mary Magdalene role—that of the divorced single mother who learns to love Santa. —Jack Helbig Through 1/3: Fri 8 PM, Sat 2:30 and 8 PM, Sun 2:30 PM, no show 12/25, Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont, 773-327-5252, theatrebuildingchicago.org, $40.
Mother Superior's Ho-Ho-Holy Night This one-woman show created by Vicki Quade may give parochial-school graduates comedic flashbacks. Kathleen Puls Andrade plays Mother Superior, a no-nonsense nun helping Saint Gabriel's church put on a Vatican-worthy holiday pageant. While spouting little-known facts about the origins of Father Christmas and what really happened at the Nativity, she dishes out discipline to her cowering audience. Luckily, she says, as she sends someone to stand in the corner, she forgot her ruler at home. The show's humor depends on a participatory audience, so pray for a gum-chewing, back-talking, original-sin loving crowd. —Marissa Oberlander Through 1/3: Sat 8 PM, Sun 3 PM, Royal George Theatre Center, 1641 N. Halsted, 312-988-9000, nuns4fun.com, $30.
The Nutcracker on Horseback Noble Horse Theatre presents The Nutcracker as performed by horses and riders from around the world. Reservations required. Through 1/9: Sat-Sun 2 PM, check with theater for additional showtimes, Noble Horse Theatre, 1410 N. Orleans, 312-266-7878, noblehorsechicago.com, $18-$25.
A Nutty Nutcracker Christmas The popular Christmas story is performed from a "rockin' contemporary adaptation" by Emerald City Theatre. Through 1/2: Tue-Sun, check with theater for showtimes, no shows 12/24, 12/25, or 12/31, Apollo Theater, 2540 N. Lincoln, 773-935-6100, emeraldcitytheatre.com, $12-$15.
Raven: A Kwanzaa Tale Directed to children in grades 1-6, this play presents the principles of Kwanzaa through stories of early 20th century southern African-Americans. Presented by the People's Jazz Theater. Sun 12/27, 4 PM, DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th Pl., 773-268-7232, dusablemuseum.org, $20.
Redmoon Winter Pageant Redmoon's hour-long solstice celebration is packed with delightful fragments from delicious dreams. In fact, the young, athletic ensemble evoke all the seasons, offering visions like a golf cart decked in giant chrysanthemums, a cloud-covered clown car, addlepated pirates who use the crowd as their compass, an underwater bar with waltzing deep-sea divers, and a frost-covered banquet table at which frightened diners feed a giant, insatiable baby. It's all accompanied by an eclectic and charming musical mix. The appearance of a rousing drum wagon, pounding out a wish for spring's return is so true to Chicago it hurts. —Lawrence Bommer Through 12/27: Sat-Sun 4 and 7:30 PM, Redmoon Theater, 1463 W. Hubbard, 312-850-8440, redmoon.org, $10-$15. C
Rudolph, the Red-Hosed Reindeer Back for its 12th year, David Cerda's raunchy parody of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer has been kept fresh with topical humor and larger-than-life characters. Alex Grelle plays Rudolph, the misfit reindeer who hides red hose beneath his overalls and prefers voguing to sleigh-pulling. Fearing reproach from a domineering, abusive Santa, Rudolph flees in clip-on earrings and heels. He finds self-confidence at the end of his perilous coming-of-age journey, meeting kooky companions and narrowly escaping the clutches of the Abominable Drag-Beast along the way. Ed Jones is a sloppy success as Santa's battered alcoholic wife, belting "Christmas Makes Me Bitter" while plotting revenge against her husband and his flamboyant, meth-addled elves. —Marissa Oberlander Through 1/2: Fri-Sun and Wed 7:30 PM, Mary's Attic at Hamburger Mary's, 5400 N. Clark, 800-838-3006, handbagproductions.org, $10-$15.
The Santaland Diaries David Sedaris's comic memoir about his stint at Macy's playing one of Santa's elves has lost a lot of its bite since he first read it on NPR in 1992. The snide commentary on Christmastime binge shoppers seems almost quaint in these recession-strapped times, and the mockery of pushy parents, clueless kids, obnoxious store managers, and eccentric Santa impersonators comes across as the verbal equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel. But in this Theater Wit mounting of Joe Mantello's 1996 stage adaptation, Mitchell Fain's offhanded, seemingly improvised delivery and interaction with the audience give the script a much-needed freshness. Recalling Joan Rivers with his raspy voice and bitchy dishiness, Fain makes the show his own, transforming the monologue into a stand-up act. —Albert Williams Through 1/2: Sat 12/26, 2:30, 7:30 and 9:30 PM, Sun 12/27, 3 and 7 PM, Thu 12/31, 7:30 and 9:30 PM, and Sat 1/2, 7:30 and 9:30 PM, Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont, 773-327-5252, theaterwit.org, $24.
Silent Nightmare: A Christmas Dirge Having closed his North Pole operation on account of economic hardship, sadistic toy manufacturer Santa Claus has relocated to an abandoned GM plant outside Akron, and rebellion simmers among his much-abused elves. Meanwhile, a war hero with post-traumatic stress disorder has come home to find that his wife slept with everyone in town, elves included, while he was away. War and money woes are certainly topical themes this (and every?) holiday season, but the Annoyance Theatre's new comedy neglects those subjects almost as soon as it raises them. Instead, you get a bunch of tasteless but still somehow boring gags about sex, violence, and sexual violence, spread out across two muddled plots that don't even begin to converge. It's sloppy, sour stuff. —Zac Thompson Through 12/26: Sat 8 PM, Annoyance Theatre, 4830 N. Broadway, 773-561-4665, annoyanceproductions.com, $15. C
The Snow Queen An offbeat combination of story theater and concert, Victory Gardens's imaginative holiday offering follows a young Danish girl's journey to the frigid north to rescue her best friend, a boy bewitched by an icy enchantress. The production boasts a gifted ensemble of singer-dancer-instrumentalists, clever rod and shadow puppets, and a charming scenic design suggesting woodcuts and cut-paper silhouettes. The core of the show is the live music by guitarist Michael Smith, composed mainly in a folk-rock vein with occasional forays into soul and western swing. Director-choreographer Jim Corti has sharpened the narrative this fourth time around, highlighting both the humor and mystery in Hans Christian Andersen's 1845 parable about how devotion can melt a frozen heart. —Albert Williams Through 12/27: Sat 3 and 7:30 PM, Sun 3 PM, Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln, 773-871-3000, victorygardens.org, $20-$48. C
Those Silly Reindeer Jack the Bird and LeeLee the Christmas Tree set out to find Holli the Snow Princess to save Christmas in this children's musical presented by Lil Buds Theatere Company. Through 12/27: Sat-Sun 1 PM, Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln, 773-371-1810, lilbudstheatre.org, $10-$15. C
A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant Decades ago, grade-school kids performed on what is now the Next Theatre stage, so there's a sense of deja vu as eight preteens enact Kyle Jarrow's wicked parody-ritual. Kathryn Walsh's staging doesn't stop at mocking L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology's celebration of cult-like "reason." With its smug certainties and self-serving creation myth, this 65-minute pageant also spoofs Nativity reenactments and passion plays. Familiarity somehow defies contempt, though, and the show comes across as an ecclesiastical infomercial. A Red Orchid Theatre's competing version delivers a much more equivocal ending, but both productions present salvation on the cheap—never more simplistic than out of the mouths of babes. —Lawrence Bommer Through 1/3: Thu 7:30 PM, Fri-Sat 8 PM, Sun 2 PM, no show 12/24 or 12/25, Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes, Evanston, 847-475-1875, ext. 2, nexttheatre.org, $15-$25.
A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant The life and teachings of Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard get the Sunday school Christmas pageant treatment in this hilarious 2003 comedy by Kyle Jarrow and Alex Timbers. All religions have their mysteries, but Scientology is especially secretive, perhaps because its intergalactic-space-opera underpinnings are especially weird. Jarrow makes the whole system look like a ridiculously elaborate scheme to separate the gullible from their savings, simply by presenting Hubbard's ideas as earnestly as possible. And because the show is cast with actual children—a hugely appealing group of them in Steve Wilson's staging for A Red Orchid Theatre—it manages the rare feat of being scathing and adorable at the same time. —Zac Thompson Through 1/17: Thu-Sat 8 PM, Sun 3 PM, Fri-Sun starting 1/3, A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells, 312-943-8722, $15-$25.
Whining in the Windy City: Holiday Edition You don't want to get on Jackie Hoffman's bad side, but there doesn't seem to be any alternative. In town to play Grandma in The Addams Family, the former Second City ensemble member is performing this one-woman-and-an-amiable-goy-pianist show on the side. It's ostensibly about the tribulations of being Jewish during Christmas, but Hoffman immediately branches out to attack pretty much everything and everybody—Jews definitely included. She can be just plain mean, as when she goes through a stack of end-of-the-year charity appeal letters, ripping up missives from the likes of UNICEF. She can also take issues like her inadequate role in The Addams Family beyond the point of amusement. But more often than not, her apparently complete lack of social filters is exhilarating. She reminds me of those blue comediennes who used to make records for stag parties—especially when she's riffing on talking dirty in front of in-laws. She can be endearingly chauvinistic about the fact that Jews wrote all the good Christmas songs, but she doesn't back down from salting her own people's wounds, either. All in all, it's a gleefully nasty rush. Just one thing: be sure to turn off your cell phone. If it rings during her show, she'll rip you a new one. —Tony Adler Through 1/4: Mon 7:30 PM, no show 12/28, Royal George Theatre Center, 1641 N. Halsted, 312-988-9000, theroyalgeorgetheatre.com, $25. C