Eric Hissom and Ted Deasy in The 39 Steps
(© Craig Schwartz)
Eric Hissom and Ted Deasy in The 39 Steps
(© Craig Schwartz)
The Curran Theatre serves up an unusual type of merriment this December as SHN brings the national tour of Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps to San Francisco (December 9-January 3). A zany take on the 1935 Hitchcock film and the 1915 novel by John Buchan, this raucous whodunit features four actors playing over 150 characters in the story of an ordinary man, a murdered spy, and a mysterious organization on the man's trail. Later in December, SHN welcomes back the Irish dance extravaganza Riverdance for eight farewell performances at the Golden Gate Theatre (December 22-27) before the tour moves on to the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts (December 29-January 3).

December is a time for holiday shows including many returning favorites. The Lorraine Hansberry Theatre presents their annual holiday treat Black Nativity: A Gospel Celebration of Christmas (Marines' Memorial Theatre, December 16-27). Originally based upon a Langston Hughes retelling of the nativity story, the Lorraine Hansberry production adds new songs, staging, and performers each year to create a rousing holiday celebration. Another holiday tradition continues at the American Conservatory Theatre as A Christmas Carol (December 3-27) shares the story of Ebenezer Scrooge and his journey to discover the Christmas spirit. Revival productions of A Christmas Carol also perform at Center REP in Walnut Creek (December 10-20) and Northside Theatre Company in San Jose (December 9-24) for their impressive 12th and 27th years, respectively.

Meanwhile, The Santaland Diaries, based on David Sedaris' story about his experiences as a department store elf, will play the Off-Market Theater, December 5-30. Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, and other historical figures are featured characters in A Civil War Christmas, presented by TheatreWorks (Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto, December 2-27). Written by Pulitzer Prize-winner Paula Vogel, this play about the American experience includes classic Christmas carols and other songs.

The 1968 Off-Broadway musical hit Dames at Sea runs at the New Conservatory Theatre Center from December 4-January 17; this upbeat show business story parodies Busby Berkeley movie musicals of the 1930s with a cast of six. NCTC also welcomes back Katya Smirnoff-Skyy, the Russian opera diva created by J. Conrad Frank, with her second holiday show Katya's Holiday Spectacular! (December 9-January 2), as well as last year's popular youth production of The Wizard of Oz (December 5-January 3).

Aurélia's Oratorio at Berkeley Rep (December 4-January 24) is an inventive theatrical event featuring the stage illusions of Aurélia Thierrée amidst dancing, puppetry, acrobatics, and music. Next door at the Aurora Theatre Company, last year's hit The Coverlettes Cover Christmas returns from December 15-27 as the Coverlettes pay tribute to the greatest girl group hits of the 1960s along with holiday classics. Also in Berkeley, Shotgun Players present Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera (December 3-January 17 at Ashby Stage). Set in the back alleys of Victorian London, the musical tells the tale of the crooked Mack the Knife and his romance with Polly Peachum, the daughter of an underworld boss.

For a unique take on traditional holiday fare, the San Ramon Community Theater weaves together all the "Beloved Holiday Classics" with Christmas traditions from around the world, historical figures, and today's pop icons in Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!) at the Front Row Theater (December 4-13). Or, check out Madonna's Christmas Celebration at Finn's Funhouse (December 8-9) which stars drag performer Mimi Imfurst as a lounge-singing Virgin Mary.

African-American Shakespeare Company offers families a bit of holiday magic with an original retelling of Cinderella (December 10-27). Set on the bayous of Louisiana, this production features comical evil stepsisters along with a hip fairy godmother. In Vallejo, the Mira Theatre Guild celebrates the season with The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (Bay Terrace Theater, December 11-20), Barbara Robinson's story about six rowdy siblings who become involved in a Christmas pageant.