Holiday theater starts with A Christmas Carol, but it doesn’t end there.
The traditional Dickens story lives on in two annual productions: Hedgerow Theatre’s fine adaptation by Nagle Jackson (Dec. 7-24, hedgerowtheatre.org) and the Walnut Street Theatre’s Bill Van Horn and Michael Borton version (Dec. 1-22, walnutstreettheatre.org). Both emphasize warm, redemptive feelings with big casts and cheery music, and just enough of the ghost-story spookiness. Delaware Theatre Company’s new adaptation by Patrick Barlow, directed by Barrymore winner Joe Calarco, uses just five actors (including dynamic multiple Barrymore winner Steve Pacek) to tell the tale (Dec. 5-30, delawaretheatre.org).
Ambler’s Act II Playhouse offers the new family-friendly Christmas play Murray the Elf and the Case of the Missing Mistletoe (Dec. 14-23, act2.org) by Bill D’Agostino, starring Will Dennis as a sad-sack elf and Andy Shaw as all of the other characters.
Since family is such an important holiday-season theme, several major theaters produce first-rate non-Christmas plays for children. The Arden Theatre Company’s Cinderella (Nov. 28-Jan. 27, ardentheatre.org), adapted by Charles Way and directed by New Paradise Laboratories’ Whit MacLaughlin, wraps Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Matteo Scammell) into the familiar tale, with the always-exciting Mary Tuomanen in the title role. I can’t wait to see Alex Keiper and Miriam White as her evil stepsisters.
People’s Light & Theatre Company in Malvern has created a new large-cast musical panto (a traditional English holiday form, using a familiar story to frame skits and songs) eight of the past nine seasons; the dedication alone deserve applause. This year’s Aladdin (through Jan. 6, peopleslight.org), penned by choreographer Samantha Bellomo and director Pete Pryor with Michael Ogborn’s original music and lyrics, looks like another winner. The can’t-miss cast includes Justin Jain, Kim Carson, Larry Grant Malvern, Karen Peakes and Mark Lazar in his traditional “grande dame” guise.
Holiday theater isn’t just for kids, though. People’s Light is also running Steve Murray’s This Wonderful Life (Nov. 29-Dec. 23, peopleslight.org), in which Jerry Richardson plays a guy nutty for Frank Capra’s 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life. He plays all 32 characters in the heartwarming classic — which, like A Christmas Carol, explores its themes through dark events like a suicide attempt and a town’s financial ruin.
Christopher Durang’s Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge (Nov. 29-Dec. 23, newcitystage.org) takes aim at Dickens, mulling what would happen if Bob Cratchit’s wife was a stressed-out modern American housewife desperate to escape grim 1840s London. New City Stage Company’s musical satire features Kittson O’Neill, straight from a starring dramatic role in Behind the Eye, as the beleaguered Mrs. Cratchit, along with Amanda Schoonover, John Zak and Robert DaPonte, and adds audience improv and Christmas carols to the already wacky evening.
BCKSEET Productions returns from a long hiatus with Kate Brennan’s ELFuego (Dec. 12-29, bckseet.com), which imagines a horrible North Pole fire that spurs an elf strike, causing elf Scab (Sarah Doherty) to import unemployed Americans to replace the strikers. This new musical comedy explores contemporary issues of unemployment, commercialism and consumerism. A portion of ticket sales will benefit Philadelphia Unemployment Project.
Two small-cast musical sequels, Winter Wonderettes (Dec. 7-30, 11thhourtheatrecompany.org) and Plaid Tidings (through Dec. 30, walnutstreettheatre.org), celebrate with classic Christmas tunes. The 11th Hour Theatre Company’s Winter Wonderettes revisits the quartet from last spring’s The Marvelous Wonderettes for a 1968 holiday reunion, starring Laura Catlaw and Rachel Camp. The Walnut Street Theatre’s Independence Studio on 3 production of Plaid Tidings reunites the four harmonizing crooners from Forever Plaid with 1950s holiday songs in a cast including 11th Hour’s artistic director and Barrymore-winning musical actor Michael Philip O’Brien. Though Plaid plays in Center City and Wonderettes runs at Norristown’s Theatre Horizon, these two shows make the ideal holiday pop-music doubleheader.
Audiences of a certain age will love Act II Playhouse’s Oh, What Fun! (Dec. 11-30, act2.org), which stars Tony Braithwaite channeling Johnny Carson in a nostalgic variety-show tribute. At Kensington’s plucky Walking Fish Theatre, audiences of a certain bent will find stimulation with The Young Adventures of Santa — A Yuletide Burlesque (Dec. 19-31, walkingfishtheatre.com), based on a story by Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum but, we assume, with more naughtiness than he imagined. Enjoy!