What is it about the encroaching cold and dark that sends us shivering out into the night in search of a collective theater experience? Local theaters can smell our desire, and like an expert patisserie, they set out the most familiar, uplifting theatrical fare to tempt us.
There will be no angst-ridden, painful social statements made on stage this December. The holiday theater season is about warm, familiar classics to satisfy an audience hungry for community and tradition.
Fans of Actors Cabaret of Eugene have spoken and the cabaret has listened. Their popular Scrooge-tastic version of A Christmas Carol is back in the theater’s brilliantly festooned hall.
“We at Actors Cabaret love the holidays,” executive director and producer Jim Roberts says. “We go all out decorating the theater with wreaths, garlands, mechanical characters. Our patrons spend the holidays with us every time we present a Christmas show and tell us that they feel like they’re at home.”
In classic ACE style, their version of A Christmas Carol is a razzle-dazzle, rowdy affair. According to Roberts, “Charles Dickens’ classic gets the full Broadway musical treatment in the (Menken, Ahrens and Okrent) adaptation. Joe Zingo’s take on the show makes for a less dark and more family-friendly version with all the music, colorful costumes and uplifting ending.”
A Christmas Carol plays at ACE through Dec. 19.
Eugene songstress Shirley Andress reprises another tradition at The Shedd with an evening of holiday music.
“I love putting this particular concert together because it feels like a coming home,” Andress says of Swinging on a Star, playing Dec. 10-17. “It’s steeped in tradition and brings people together in a very positive and joyful way.”
This year’s concert features Bill Hulings, Bob Cross, Tracy Williams-Tooze, Marisa Frantz and Vicki Brabham, with Andress in the lead. Together they take on the challenge of swing-era holiday songs.
“This concert was designed to bring back those wonderfully arranged Christmas tunes from the 1930s through the 1950s,” Andress says. “These arrangements are some of the coolest renditions of Christmas tunes out there. Super challenging to sing, but the end result is well worth the struggle of balancing those tight harmonies”
Andress speaks passionately about the power of music during the holiday season. “The music is hauntingly familiar,” she says. “I think holiday music brings that best out in many of us.”
If you have not had the pleasure of attending Fred Crafts’ Radio Redux, allow yourself a treat this holiday season when you see Miracle on 34th Street at the Hult Center Dec. 18-20. Crafts himself is a consummate performer, bringing together some of Eugene’s best to preserve the tradition of radio theater.
Scrooge, Tiny Tim and all those horrifying ghosts reappear at Oregon Contemporary Theatre with director Elizabeth Helman’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol.
“Dickens’ ghost story of one man’s redemption on Christmas Eve has endured for over 170 years,” says OCT artistic director Craig Willis. “Growing up, it was a story I looked forward to revisiting each December. It’s a story whose message evolves as our individual and cultural circumstances change.”
OCT hopes to bring families in to see this show, satisfying their goal of engaging with the entire community. “It’s fun to see kids on our stage and in the audience,” Willis says. “A Christmas Carol is a great story for kids. The music, singing and dance are engaging and lively. And at the center is Dickens’ haunting tale that offers valuable life lessons.”
He also notes that OCT has had “terrific success with other holiday stories, but you can’t exactly bring the kids or grandchildren to Santaland Diaries,” David Sedaris’ darkly humorous story of working as an elf at Macy’s department store.
A Christmas Carol runs through Dec. 20 at OCT.
This is just a small sampling of local holiday performances. If your tastes run toward the non-traditional holiday show, Cottage Theatre is staging The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe Dec. 4–20. Cirque du Soleil’s touring production Cirque Musical Holiday Spectacular will be at UO’s Matthew Knight Arena on Dec. 13. For children’s theater, Annie plays at Upstart Crow Dec. 4-12, and Rose Children’s Theatre presents I’m Dreaming of an A Cappella Christmas Dec. 18-20.