Rowan Atkinson in Oliver!
(© John Swannell)
Rowan Atkinson in Oliver!
(© John Swannell)
The holiday gifts ready to be unwrapped this season are almost entirely musical, while producers hold more serious fare until the new year. The most awaited debut in this family-oriented month is Cameron Mackintosh's Oliver! revival at the Drury Lane (December 12-June 20, 2009). Hot-as-a-Yuletide-fire director Rupert Goold guides Rowan Atkinson, Julian Glover, Rosemary Leach, and Louise Gold in this all-time lively tuner that Lionel Bart derived from Charles Dickens.

Another glazed ingredient in the theatrical fruitcake is an intimate revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard at the Comedy, beginning December 4. It's directed by Craig Revel Horwood and imported from Newbury's Watermill Theatre, where John Doyle established the actors-playing-instruments tradition apparently adhered to here.

Pantos and the like are, of course, typical of any jingle-bells season in this town. At the Barbican is the Catherine Wheel Theatre Company's version of Hansel and Gretel (December 1-January 4), which has music woven through it. Anthony Clark puts a version of Antoine de Saint Exupery's Little Prince on the Hampstead stage (December 4-January 10). Cinderella will go to the ball at the Wimbledon (December 12-January 18). The Unicorn is hosting How Long is a Piece of String (December 6-January 4), which is billed as an "interactive, multi-sensory production." Peter Pan is on at the Richmond (December 5-January 11), while it's Jack and the Beanstalk at Theatre Royal, Bath (December 18-January 25).

Two productions of The Nutcracker are also on view. One is at the London Coliseum (December 12-30); the other is at the Royal Opera House (December 9-January 1). Needless to say, the latter is the Engelbert Humperdinck opera. Over at Sadler's Well, the Santas have brought back Matthew Bourne's Edward Scissorhands (December 2-January 18).

Christmas in New York, in for one night at the Lyric (December 12) features singers like the locally beloved Maria Friedman and Julie Atherton warbling ditties you'd expect to hear right about now. Irving Berlin lovers -- and he did write "White Christmas," after all -- might want to venture to Salisbury for Let's Face the Music and Dance in the Salberg Studio at Salisbury Playhouse (December 11-January 10).

As for plays, there's Lisa Kron's unflinching Well at the Apollo (December 29-January 24), which depicts the author's autobiographical look at her relationship with her mother, and it's both funny and achingly poignant. There's also Joe Orton's naughty, hilarious Loot at the Tricycle (December 12-January 31). Featuring the great David Haig, it should be like a piece of glittering coal in a stuffed stocking. Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts gets refreshed in a Frank McGuinness translation at the Young Vic (December 17-20).

Conall Morrison is contributing what the Royal Shakespeare Company's calling "an iconoclastic" take on The Taming of the Shrew at its local home, the Novello (December 2-March 7, 2009). Derek Jacobi gets cross-gartered in Twelfth Night at Wyndham's (December 5-March 7, 2009), part of the Donmar Warehouse's West End season and helmed by company artistic director Michael Grandage. The incomparable Victoria Hamilton will be Viola, and funny Ron Cook will be inebriated Toby Belch.