Sebastienne Mundheim/Mark Garvin
POETRY AND NOTIONS: The holiday theater season includes Lantern’s puppet-heavy adaptation of Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales (left) and the Walnut’s mainstage production of Elf with Christopher Sutton and Kate Fahrner.
The “War on Christmas” decried by Sarah Palin and Bill O’Reilly isn’t evident in Philadelphia theater, which is producing a rich variety of appropriately jolly and family-friendly shows for the holiday season. Since there’s so many and they’re just starting to open right about now, here’s a brief guide to who’s decking the halls of local stages.
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is produced annually by the Hedgerow Theatre (Dec. 6-31, hedgerowtheatre.org) in Nagle Jackson’s elegant adaptation, and at Walnut Street Theatre (Nov. 30-Dec. 22, walnutstreettheatre.org) as an hour-long musical for kids. Sharing the Walnut’s main stage is the musical Elf (through Jan. 5), based on the 2003 Will Ferrell film (which was written by Philadelphia native David Berenbaum).
Lantern Theater Company’s got A Child’s Christmas in Wales (Dec 5-Jan. 5, lanterntheater.org), Dylan Thomas’ beloved poem as staged by artistic director Charles McMahon and interdisciplinary artist Sebastienne Mundheim. UPenn’s Annenberg Center hosts a family story set to ’80s music, Snowball (Dec. 4-15, annenbergcenter.org), by FringeArts-favorite dance troupe Brian Sanders’ JUNK.
Act II Playhouse brings back Will Dennis as the title character in Bill D’Agostino’s Murray the Elf and the Case of the Terrifying Tinsel (Dec. 21-28, act2.org), along with an adult comedy, Ginna Hoben’s The Twelve Dates of Christmas (Dec. 10-29), starring charmer Maggie Lakis as a hapless single searching for a Christmas miracle. The season even inspires farce, with Josh Piven’s new play No Reservations (Nov. 26-Dec. 15, brownpapertickets.com), a contemporary Nativity story by the author of The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook series that satirizes our celebrity-obsessed, media-saturated culture.
Family theater not referencing the season is also a popular option during the holidays. The Arden Theatre Company revives John Olive’s adaptation of Louis Sachar’s wacky Sideways Stories from Wayside School (Dec. 4-Feb. 15, ardentheatre.org), a big 2003 hit. Another revival for families, Cinderella: A Musical Panto (Nov. 20-Jan. 12, peopleslight.org), returns to Malvern’s People’s Light and Theatre Company after winning multiple 2008-09 Barrymore Awards. (It’s a must-see.)
Quintessence Theatre Group in Mt. Airy presents Alan Ben-nett’s wry adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s beloved classic The Wind in the Willows (Dec. 11-Jan. 6, quintessencetheatre.org). Enchantment Theatre Company shares Aladdin and Other Enchanting Tales (Dec. 17-30, enchantmenttheatre.org) with dance, music, and puppets. Fishtown’s Walking Fish Theatre premieres American Fairy Tales (Dec. 18-31, walkingfishtheatre.com), an audience-participation adaptation of three L. Frank Baum (of The Wizard of Oz) stories.
And, last, some theaters are avoiding the expected seasonal fare altogether. New City Stage Company offers Frost/Nixon (Dec. 5-Jan. 5, newcitystage.org), Peter Morgan’s historical drama about the disgraced president (Dan Olmstead) and the British yakker (Russ Widdall). The Philadelphia Theatre Company presents an improved version of its 2007 Barrymore Award-winning musical Nerds (Nov. 29-Dec. 29, philadelphiatheatrecompany.org
Comedy specialists 1812 Pro-ductions reunite Jennifer Childs, Scott Greer, Dave Jadico and Tony Braithwaite in a celebration of classic slapstick, The Big Time: New Vaudeville for the Holidays (Nov. 29-Dec. 31, 1812productions.org), and Josh McIlvain’s SmokeyScout concludes its Mt. Airy fall performing arts series with Nice and Fresh: December (Dec. 6-7, smokeyscout.com), new works by dance and theater artists, including Hella Fresh Theater’s John Rosenberg.
Even Shakespeare graces holiday stages. Pig Iron’s 2011 Fringe hit Twelfth Night, or What You Will (Dec. 4-22, fringearts.com) makes a welcome return; City Paper called it “pure magic.” Meanwhile, Curio Theatre Company has a parallel premiere with Harry Slack’s Gender Comedy: A Less Stupid Twelfth Night Gay Fantasia (Dec. 2-Jan. 7, curiotheatre.org), a modern, gender-bending adaptation.
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