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Holiday Theater Preview 2016 (Or, How to Have Fun on the Brink of the Apocalypse) 

Now that we've dispensed with Thanksgiving Day and all the things for which we're thankful (now that we're living in Trumpworld, it didn't take that long for some of us), it's time to look at what local theaters have devised for our holiday amusement. Yes, I said "holiday" and not "Christmas," since there are still people in this country who don't actually celebrate Christmas. And before it becomes a felony to be courteous and use the word "holiday," I thought I'd just trot it out once more for old time's sake.

First, let's pay some attention to the traditional shows that always show up this time of year. The granddaddy of them all in Cleveland is A Christmas Carol (now through Dec. 23 at Great Lakes Theater), which is in its 28th year. There are a couple new wrinkles to this story of Scrooge, since it will be directed by Tom Ford and feature Lynn Robert Berg as the crotchety old coot Ebenezer, who finds his humanity thanks to some ghostly visitors.

Right nearby at the Allen Theatre, the Cleveland Play House is already immersed in another encore presentation of A Christmas Story (through Dec. 23). Ralphie is the kid who wants an air rifle for Christmas, long before that could have been viewed as an NRA-friendly political statement. It's all based on the gentle, witty anecdotes spun by Jean Shepherd, who also knew a little something about humanity.

The elf is back — yes, the gay one with an attitude problem — in The Santaland Diaries (Dec. 1-18, Outcalt Theatre). For the second year, Ray Caspio lends his electric stage presence to Crumpet, the elf at Macy's who is based on the David Sedaris semi-autobiographical story that premiered on National Public Radio eons ago.

The delightful Peter and the Starcatcher (Dec. 2-31, Dobama Theatre) is back for the second year. This musical prequel to Peter Pan has all the elements of that play — the pirates, the croc, the boy who won't grow up — all mashed together using inventive stagecraft.

Although it's not a traditional show here, a very familiar Dr. Seuss yarn has been revised into How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical (Dec. 6-11, Connor Palace). Adapted from TV's renowned animated special, the show transports the audience to Whoville and to the villain whose heart is two sizes too small. (The size of his hands is not mentioned.)

Another well-known story will be splashing down at the Beck Center in the form of The Little Mermaid (Dec. 2-31). Based on the classic fairy tale and film, this Disney-branded script will be led by the Beck team of Scott Spence, Larry Goodpaster and Martin Cespedes — people who know a thing or two about staging big, flashy shows. It features some great music by Academy Award winning composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman.

The fine singers at Karamu House will be showing off their vocal chops in Sister Act (Dec. 2-30), the story about the gangland wife who is relocated into a convent by the witness protection program. But there's no vow of silence involved, since she transforms the staid choir of nuns into a kick-ass, soulful singing troupe.

If you're looking for something that doesn't reek of eggnog and fruitcake, try cleansing your entertainment palate with Cabaret (Dec. 2-17, Blank Canvas Theatre). The Kander and Ebb songs are great and the story, about Berlin in the days before the Nazis took total power, may feel a bit more relevant than you ever thought possible. It features a talented duo in the lead roles: Devon Turchan as the Emcee and Tricia Bestic as Sally Bowles.

There are also a couple entirely new entries in the holiday theater scene. One is Light the Lights Ol' Moses CLE! (through Dec. 18, Cleveland Public Theater). Created and performed by Northeast Ohio artists, it's billed as a wild holiday romp. Cabaret seating plus beer and wine service during the performance promise to make it even more festive.

Ensemble Theatre is showing The Night Thoreau Spent In Jail (through Dec. 11), and it is highlighted by a strong performance by Geoff Knox as Thoreau, along with solid support from the entire cast. While it has a bit too much philosophizing and not enough drama, it's loaded with ideas that are always good to hear.

And local playwright Jonathan Wilhelm has blended a few genres into a noir-comedy-mystery-thriller titled The Knife Is Money, The Fork Is Love (Dec. 2-17, convergence-continuum). With that much in the mix, how can you go wrong?

As usual, the innovative and industrious theaters in Cleveland are here to keep our spirits up during this holiday season. And let's face it, some of us need all the good and powerful spirits — of any and all kinds — given where we're headed.


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