Holiday entertainment preview: Chestnuts, and just plain nuts

  • Article by: STAR TRIBUNE STAFF
  • Updated: November 15, 2013 - 11:15 AM

Looking for holiday shows? Here are a few traditional offerings and some offbeat choices.

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The Brave New Workshop can always be counted on to bend a holiday halo or two. This year’s show is “I Saw Daddy Marry Santa Claus.”

Photo: Brave New Workshop,

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SHORTENED SUGARPLUMS

If you don’t have the time or endurance for an entire “Nutcracker,” St. Paul City Ballet offers “Clara’s Dream.” Excerpts from the second act will thrill the tiny dancer in everyone for a very Christmas-conscious price. (Dec. 14, Chanhassen High School, $20, and Dec. 15, Macalester College, $15-$20. 651-690-1588, spcballet.org)

You can’t get more dramatically classic than Handel’s Messiah performed at the Basilica of St. Mary. Tickets for the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s two concerts Dec. 20-21 with Dale Warland and the SPCO Chorale (Jonathan Cohen conducting) are close to 90 percent sold, but the orchestra also will perform Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos Dec. 12-15. ($12-$42, www.thespco.org)

Classical couch potatoes, you’re in luck: The Minnesota Opera’s 2011 world premiere of “Silent Night,” an operatic version of the true story of the World War I Christmas Eve cease-fire that garnered a Pulitzer Prize for composer Kevin Puts, will be broadcast on PBS on Dec. 13. KRISTIN TILLOTSON

 

CYNICAL ELVES

Brave New Workshop can be counted on to bend a holiday halo or two. This year’s show, “I Saw Daddy Marry Santa Claus,” folds in current events like gay marriage and the National Security Agency. ($26-$36, bravenewworkshop.com, 612-332-6620)

The one-night-only interactive variety show “Mary Mack’s Holiday Meat Raffle Show With Doggie Sweater Competition” is back for a fourth year at a new venue, Cedar Cultural Center (Dec. 19, $10, TheCedar.org). Expect the loosey-goosiest of atmospheres presided over by funny-bunny Mack, including music, comedy and yes, a contest for sweater-wearing dogs. (Register your pooch at marymackcomedy.com.)

Whether or not you’re a diehard David Sedaris fan, the stage version of his account of working at Macy’s as Crumpet, the world-weary, chain-smoking elf, is the perfect antidote to commercial excess. Frank Theatre’s production of “The Santaland Diaries,” starring Joe Leary, runs Dec. 13-23 at Cowles Center. ($29, thecowlescenter.org)

Pagans needn’t feel left out this season. In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre presents “Between the Worlds,” a tribute to the winter solstice featuring music, puppets and dance, followed by warm beverages and cookies (six performances Dec. 13-22, $20, hobt.org). KRISTIN TILLOTSON

 

AROUND THE TREE: HOLIDAY TRADITIONS IN THE SOVIET ERA

Through Feb. 2: As an officially atheist country, the Soviet Union banned Christmas celebrations even though they had flourished in Russia before the revolution of 1917. Christmas trees were attacked as a “savage custom,” and “religious dope.” Then the Soviet birth rate began to fall, so, in the mid-1930s, Soviet boss Joseph Stalin decreed a traditional focus on the family, complete with prettily ornamented New Year’s trees for the pleasure of children. The exhibit features more than 20 paintings, antique ornaments, red-star tree-toppers, holiday masks, figurines of Grandfather Frost and the Snow Maiden and other artifacts of the time on loan from private collections. (10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat., 1-5 p.m. Sun. Ends Feb. 2, $5-$9. Museum of Russian Art, 5500 Stevens Av. S., Mpls. 612-821-9045 or www.tmora.org) MARY ABBE

 

THE NEW STANDARDS HOLIDAY SHOW

Dec. 7-8: Still don’t believe that this is the best locally generated holiday music revue in town? Proof is in the bookings. The jazz-pop reinventionist trio — featuring rock vets Chan Poling of the Suburbs and John Munson of Semisonic/Trip Shakespeare, plus vibraphone ace Steve Roehm — has grown from a one-night stand at the Fitzgerald in 2006 to two nights in a twice-bigger theater, plus dates around the state. The performances have expanded, too, with extra symphonic and choral accompaniment and an ever-growing list of naughty and nice guest singers. They won’t be unwrapped until show time, but we know they’ll spark plenty of good cheer. (Dec. 6-7, State Theatre, 805 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., $35-$100, 1-800-982-2787 or TheNewStandards.com. Also: Nov. 29-30 at Papa Charlie’s in Lutsen; Dec. 11 at Rochester Civic Auditorium, and Dec. 14 at St. Cloud’s Paramount Theatre.) CHRIS RIEMENSCHNEIDER

 

‘LOYCE HOULTON’S NUTCRACKER FANTASY’

Dec. 20-23: Minnesota Dance Theatre is just one year shy of celebrating the 50th anniversary of its signature holiday event. MDT has presented the family favorite at the Cowles Center for the past two seasons, but now the troupe will travel back down Hennepin Avenue to the State Theatre, a familiar stage for the “Nutcracker Fantasy.” More spacious digs means that a full 44-piece orchestra, led by Philip Brunelle, will perform Tchaikovsky’s composition, accompanying the cast of MDT professionals and students, all of whom seem to get an extra big kick out of this production (especially the littlest ones who scamper about as the wee pot-bellied mice). Superfans can join in a “Nutcracker Tea Party” (4:30 p.m. Dec. 22, $100-$125) that includes treats, a backstage tour, a photo with cast members and premium seating for that evening’s show. (7:30 p.m. Dec. 20, 2 & 7:30 p.m. Dec. 21, 1 & 6:30 p.m. Dec. 22, noon Dec. 23. $35-$75. State Theatre, 805 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls. 800-987-2787. www.ticketmaster.com.) CAROLINE PALMER

 

‘BLACK NATIVITY: A HOLIDAY CONCERT’

Dec. 12-22: Penumbra Theatre’s “Black Nativity,” a hallmark of the holidays in the Twin Cities, was suspended last year because of the company’s financial difficulties. Even before that, Penumbra, like many theaters with holiday traditions, had tinkered with the show in order to refresh it. This year, the theater brings back a concert production, backed by the mass choir of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church and featuring solo performances by Dennis Spears, Greta Oglesby and Yolande Bruce. Maestro Sanford Moore conducts while Penumbra founder Lou Bellamy narrates Langston Hughes’ script. (7:30 p.m. Dec. 12-13 & 18-20; 2 & 7:30 p.m. Dec. 14-15 & 21-22. Penumbra Theatre, 270 N. Kent St., St. Paul. $30 or $66 for dinner package. 651-224-3180 or www.penumbratheatre.org) ROHAN PRESTON

 

‘VIVA NOEL : A HOLIDAY CIRQUE’

Nov. 29-Dec. 15: Set to a modern yet nostalgic soundtrack, this high-energy circus show sets a cheery tone with aerial performers, jugglers, dancers and even rapping carolers. Contortionists, acrobats and gymnasts take guests on a whimsical trip into the imagination of an elf named Elfie who crash-lands inside the Mystic Showroom. After fluttering about, the Elf engages the audience in a holly, jolly adventure. (Mystic Lake, $28-$36. www.mysticlake.com.) MELISSA WALKER

 

‘WELCOME CHRISTMAS’

Dec. 7-15: VocalEssence’s annual show celebrates the season with a Latin flair this year. The centerpiece is a Christmas cantata, “La Fiesta de la Posada,” by legendary jazz musician Dave Brubeck. He fell in love with Mexican folk music as a child, and here blends Latin rhythms with American jazz to celebrate Las Posadas, the Latin festival recounting the journey of Mary and Joseph to the stable. Pianist Dan Chouinard and local band Mariachi Mi Tierra join Philip Brunelle and the VocalEssence Chorus and Ensemble Singers. Beloved carols, in arrangements by renowned American composers, round out the program. (7:30 p.m. Dec. 7, Trinity Lutheran Church, 115 N. 4th St., Stillwater; 4 p.m. Dec. 8, Plymouth Congregational Church, 1919 LaSalle Av., Mpls.; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13, Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church, 12650 Johnny Cake Ridge Road, Apple Valley; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 14, Colonial Church of Edina, 6200 Colonial Way, Edina; 4 p.m. Dec. 15, Plymouth Congregational Church, 1919 LaSalle Av., Mpls.; $20-$40, www.vocalessence.org) WILLIAM RANDALL BEARD

 

‘CHRISTMAS OF SWING’

Nov. 23-Dec. 22: Ruthie Baker, left, Stacey Lindell and Jen Burleigh-Bentz return to the History Theatre stage for this holiday version of the popular Andrews Sisters story. The show is based on Christmas USO performances the Minnesota sisters did during World War II, when they were the hottest act in the world. The three women are joined by Mark Rosenwinkel, who plays a couple of characters including comedian Lou Costello. It’s pretty irresistible stuff for Andrews fans, with lots of numbers from their songbook. And these three singers are right on the money. Raymond Berg returns as the band leader — a good sign — and Ron Peluso directs. Michael Hoover has fashioned a new set design we’re eager to see. (8 p.m. Thu.-Fri., 2 & 8 p.m. Sat., 2 p.m. Sun., plus 10 a.m. Nov. 26, Dec. 5, 12 & 19. History Theatre, 30 E. 10th St., St. Paul; $15-$40, 651-292-4323 or www.historytheatre.com) GRAYDON ROYCE

 

RONNIE SPECTOR’S BEST CHRISTMAS PARTY EVER

Dec. 4-5: The lead singer of the Ronettes was featured on one of the greatest holiday albums of all time — 1963’s “A Christmas Gift to You From Phil Spector” — so 25 years ago she decided to stage her own musical Yule party in her hometown of New York. For the past several years, the self-proclaimed bad girl of rock has taken her show on tour to sing her classic renditions of “Sleigh Ride,” “Frosty the Snowman” and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” which still rank among the most-played holiday recordings every year. Her performance will also include some of the hits (“Be My Baby,” “Walking in the Rain”) that landed the Ronettes in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (7 p.m. Dec. 4-5, Dakota Jazz Club, 1010 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., $45-$65. 612-332-1010.) JON BREAM

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