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Chicago Spotlight: December 2009

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Larry Yando and Anish Jethmalani in A Christmas Carol
(© Liz Lauren)
The sugar-plums-and-treacle season is here as theaters large and small turn to the annual Christmas Cash Cow. In Chicago, the Mother of All Holiday Shows is Goodman Theatre's lavish production of A Christmas Carol (through December 31), now featuring Larry Yando as Scrooge. Of course, the Goodman version is but one of a dozen local adaptations of the Dickens classic, some musical and some not, some for kids and some not, some only an hour and some not.

However, the most interesting holiday show may be It's A Wonderful Life performed as a 90-minute live radio play. It's not the familiar tale that makes it interesting, but the fact that there are two major competing productions of it, and we DO mean competing. It's A Wonderful Life has been done for nearly a decade by American Theatre Company (ATC) and they're doing it again (through December 27). But earlier this year, the majority of ATC's founding ensemble walked out in a dispute with the company's new artistic director. The founder/walkers reconfigured under ATC's original name, American Blues Theater (ABT, founded 1985), and they, too, are doing It's A Wonderful Life at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theater (through December 27).

Among other more-or-less traditional holiday shows: Miracle on 34th Street, the musical, presented by Porchlight Music Theatre at Theatre Building Chicago (through January 3); the lovely original musical The Christmas Schooner, at Theatre at the Center (through December 21), telling how Christmas trees arrived in Chicago in the 1880's; and The Snow Queen, Hans Christian Andersen's fairytale adapted by folk composer Michael Smith, librettist Frank Galati (both Tony Award winners) and puppet masters Blair Thomas & Company, presented for the fourth year by Victory Gardens Theater (through December 27).

Of course, there is non-traditional holiday fare as well, mostly geared to adults. One returning show is Theatre Wit's The Santaland Diaries, offering David Sedaris' jaundiced views of the holiday season. Once more, Mitchell Fain plays the elf (at Theatre Building Chicago through January 2). At National Pastime Theatre, New Millennium Theatre Company offers the holiday TV special that never was, The David Bowie Hepzikat Velvet Flarney Solstice Spectacular (through December 19). Next, Brain Surgeon Theater presents a world premiere musical, Florida Devereaux Does the Holidays, with music by Gwen Tulin, at Prop Theatre (December 4-20). Then, Annoyance Productions offers The Cockettes: The Christmas Spectacular, featuring a "living nativity" and an eight-headed sweater routine (December 9-20). There is at least one non-traditional show that is family-friendly, and that's the annual Redmoon Winter Pageant (now, blessedly, indoors) combining all sorts of puppet wizardry with masks, music and live performers at Redmoon Central (through December 27).

There are a surprising number of non-holiday shows, too, including The Second City's 97th mainstage revue, Taming of the Flu, December 6 (open run) to launch that temple of comedy's 50th anniversary celebrations. A few theaters are ignoring the holidays with decidedly dark drama: Backstage Theatre Company offers Wallace Shawn's Aunt Dan and Lemon at the Chopin Theatre (through December 20); Redtwist Theatre presents Martin McDonogh's frightening The Pillowman (through December 27); Curious Theatre Branch offers two companion one-acts by Beau O'Reilly, No Longer the Rock of the World and Dead to the World at the Center Portion Gallery (through January 3); and Steppenwolf Theatre Company stages David Mamet's Chicago-set classic, American Buffalo, featuring ensemble members Francis Guinan and Tracy Letts, directed by Amy Morton (through February 7).

Several non-holiday musicals also are making December appearances: the national tour of In the Heights at the Cadillac Palace (December 15-January 3); My Fair Lady, featuring Jeff Award winners Kevin Gudahl and Heidi Kettering as Higgins and Eliza, at the Marriott Theatre (December 9-February 14); and The Pirates of Penzance, ringing in the New Year at Light Opera Works at Cahn Auditorium (December 26-January 3). Finally, Theo Ubique Theatre Company's chamber staging of Man of La Mancha has been extended a full month at the No Exit Cafe (through December 20).

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