How to Stage the Holidays
Whatever kind of family you have, there’s a show in town with your name on it.
The holidays are a time for family, which often means packing your house as full of relatives as possible without you having to weatherproof your garage. So if you’re starting to feel a bit cramped – or if you genuinely like your next of kin and want to do something enjoyable with them – I’m here to help, with some quality holiday theater.
Other than the Skylight’s sold-out Les Miserables, there are still seats available for a lot of theater in town, which I’ve categorized by the type of outing they’ll provide:
If your family is staying traditional… Milwaukee has no less than two versions of It’s a Wonderful Life gracing local stages. Sunset Playhouse offers a straight adaptation directed by Diana Alioto, which directly translates the story of George Bailey and his realization of his own importance to his family and community. Next Act’s version is slightly altered: It’s a Wonderful Life Live Radio Show tells that story as a 1950s radio teleplay, performed by a group of actors doing their last productions before their station switches over to an all-music format.
It’s a Wonderful Life, at Sunset Playhouse, runs through Dec. 31. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. most nights, with an extra 4 p.m. show Saturday and a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday. Tickets are $25, $23 for students/seniors/military, and can be ordered at (262) 782-4430 or online.
It’s a Wonderful Life Live Radio Show, at Next Act Theatre, runs through Jan. 5. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. weeknights, 4:30 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $38 Saturdays, $35 Fridays and Sundays, and $30 Monday-Thursday, and can be ordered at (414) 278-0765 or online.
If your family is Wisconsin to the core… Those of you hoping to find reflections of your own neighbors on stage rather than the neighbors of Bedford Falls are in luck, as In Tandem’s familiar holiday romp, A Cudahy Caroler Christmas, has returned for yet another year. The play focuses on the titular carolers, once bosom buddies but now separated following a bitter fight five years ago, and their former leader’s efforts to reunite them one last time. And if you have any doubt of its Wisconsin credentials, consider that the show features songs like “O, Bowling Night” and “We T’ree Guys from Cudahy Are” among its repertoire.
A Cudahy Caroler Christmas, at In Tandem Theatre, runs through Jan. 5. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 4 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, along with a special NYE show at 9:30 p.m. with a champagne reception afterward. Tickets are $25, $23 for students/seniors ($35 on New Year’s Eve), and can be purchased at (414) 271-1371 or online.
If your family is looking to laugh… Off the Wall has the more unorthodox option: The Creature from the Black, Black Lagoon, a parody of the classic horror series that sets the action on Christmas Eve and features a group of adventurers who find themselves pursued by the Creature – some more romantically than others. Further south in Bay View, the Alchemist Theatre continues to play host to the performers of A Kick in the Dickens 2, an improv/sketch comedy show that offers a festive spin on the genre, including a fully improvised Dickensian comedy in the vein of A Christmas Carol.
The Creature from the Black, Black Lagoon, at Off the Wall Theatre, runs through Dec. 29. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. all nights except Sunday, when performances are at 4:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at (414) 484-8874 or online.
A Kick in the Dickens 2, at the Alchemist Theatre, runs through Dec. 28. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Tickets are $19 and can be purchased online.
If your family has lots of kids… Obviously many of these shows might work, but if you want theater by kids, for kids, First Stage remains the premier pick. Its holiday show, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, is one the company’s leadership has some experience with, most recently having performed it in 2009. As then, the show retains its setting within the ‘80s, as well as its message of holiday spirit and redemption, embodied by the incorrigible Herdman children, who ruin and then redeem the annual Christmas pageant.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, at First Stage, runs through Dec. 29. Performances are at 3:30 and 7 p.m. Friday; 1, 3:30 and 7 p.m. Saturday; and 1 and 3:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $12-$37, and can be purchased at (414) 267-2961 or online.
If your family is tired of the holidays… The Rep is best known for holiday classic A Christmas Carol, but with that show closed, it’s also an excellent place to find a family-friendly alternative: Forever Plaid. The musical revue, an homage to ‘50s close harmony groups that resurrects a quartet of male singers to perform the gig they never got to in life, is being performed in the Stackner Cabaret, making it the perfect place to grab a post-Christmas cocktail or two – all to the tune of some long-ago hits.
Forever Plaid, at the Milwaukee Rep, runs through Dec. 29. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets range from $20 to $75 and can be purchased at (414) 224-9490 or online.
If your family is really more New Year’s people… There’s always tons to do in Milwaukee on New Year’s Eve, but if you crave a theatrical alternative to the usual bar scene, we’ve got you covered. Several of the aforementioned companies have NYE performances (namely, Next Act, Sunset Playhouse, and In Tandem), but there’s also some unique, one-night only events.
At the Alchemist, A Kick in the Dickens is replaced by the company’s annual NYE festivities: a dance-heavy gala featuring go-go dancers, a show by Moonlight Muse Burlesque, all-you-can-drink rail beverages, a mirror ball drop and a “Sparkle Explosion Dance Party.” The events begin at 9 p.m., and admission is $30 ($15 for designated drivers). To order, visit the Alchemist’s box office.
If something more explicitly stagecrafty is what you’re looking for, try Dead Man’s Carnival at the Oriental Theatre. The vaudeville group, which has everything from variety show acts and circus skills to fire breathing and magic tricks on tap, is hosting its biggest NYE show ever this year, as a way to kick-start their 2014 season. The show begins at 10 p.m., and tickets are $25; order online at the Oriental’s website.