April 17, 2024

12 Shows of Christmas

Live holiday performances around the North
By Ross Boissoneau | Nov. 17, 2018

Each year, the season brings a host of holiday cheer to stages across the region. And because it’s a heckuva lot easier to get your hands on a ticket than it is on a partridge in a pear tree, we’ve assembled 12 live shows that are sure to make your holiday extra merry and bright. 
 
The Second City’s “Dysfunctional Holiday Revue” 
Dec. 28
Bay Harbor
Sketch and improve group The Second City brings its live-action humor to the Great Lakes Center for the Arts for its “Dysfunctional Holiday Revue.” Billed as “the perfect alternative to the same old holiday shows,” itskewers all sorts of holiday traditions, from holiday film classics and family gatherings to overly familiar Christmas carols, though it’s likely the group’s carols are slightly more creative than “Jingle Bells.”

The Second City has the most impressive alumni roster of any comedy troupe, from Mike Meyer and Dan Aykroyd to Tina Fey and Shelley Long. So, in addition to taking in the show’s wicked comic slant on Christmas traditions, there will no doubt be some members of this touring revue who will go on to other comedic endeavors. Warning: Due to adult content, this is one holiday offering recommended for mature audiences only.

Tickets:
$35–$45. www.greatlakescfa.org
 
 
Old Town Playhouse presents "A Christmas Carol"
Nov. 23, 24, 29, 30; Dec. 1, 6–8
Traverse City
This variation on the classic Dickens tale is a story within a story, following a troupe of actors readying for a performance of the story. As a trunk of supplies opens — spilling actors, clowns, and whatever else — merriment and chaos ensue. Old Town Playhouse Executive Director Phil Murphy likens the show to a pop-up storybook, with characters coming to life onstage. “You walk into a theatre that, rather than Victorian England, is a bare stage,” he said.

Murphy said OTP read several adaptations of the classic tale before settling on this one, which came out in the late ’70s. It includes circus elements, troubadours, singers, and other additional aspects, enhancing the traditional parts of the story. And while the original one had as much that was creepy and dark as light and engaging, this version concentrates more on the celebratory facets of the tale. “You get into the story from a different place,” said Murphy.

(Bonus: On Saturday, Dec. 1, from 1pm to 4pm, OTP offers a sensory-friendly performance, plus pre-show touch stations in lower lobby and post-show opportunities to meet the cast.)

Tickets:$15–$28, www.mynorthtickets.com.
 
The Music House Christmas Concert and Sing-along
Nov. 23
Acme
Frequent guest Dave Calendine, live organist for the Detroit Red Wings, kicks off the holiday season with a Christmas concert/sing-along of familiar Christmas music played on the Music House’s Mighty Wurlitzer theater organ.
 
It’s an opportunity to relax after the Black Friday shopping frenzy — or to get in some extra shopping for your music-loving family and friends at the Music House’s gift shop. The museum will be decked out in its best holiday splendor, and attendees will also be treated to delicious holiday desserts to sweeten the evening.
 
Calendine is also a staff organist at The Fox Theater, and he performs at The Redford Theater and at his church, as well as concerts at the Sanfillipo Foundation in Illinois, and the national Music Box Society International conventions. The fun will begin at 7pm.

Tickets: $10 for adults, $5 for students at the door. www.mynorthtickets.com
 
Crooked Tree Sugar Plum Fairy Tea
Dec. 1
Petoskey
Stafford’s Perry Hotel in Petoskey hosts the annual Sugar Plum Fairy Tea from 1pmto 3pm. Boys and girls of all ages are invited to enjoy an afternoon of festive activities. On hand will be several principal performers of the Crooked Tree Arts Center School of Ballet’s “The Nutcracker,” including Clara, Nutcracker, the Snow Queen, Dew Drop Fairy, the Mouse Queen, and more, including (of course) the Sugar Plum Fairy.
 
Each reservation includes tea or lemonade, sweet and savory treats, tea sandwiches, a reading of “The Nutcracker” story and two tickets to a performance of “The Nutcracker” at Great Lakes Center for the Art (see below). Attendees will be able to pose with principal dancers for individual photo opportunities. All attendees will also receive a commemorative photo of the principal performers, perfect for autographs. All proceeds of the Sugar Plum Fairy Tea support the year-round dance scholarship fund at Crooked Tree Arts Center.

Tickets: $35–$250, www.crookedtree.org
 
 
Great Lakes Center for the Arts presents “The Nutcracker”
Dec. 15, 16
Bay Harbor
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, at least for performances of “The Nutcracker.” The Crooked Tree Arts Center’s School Ballet will showcase original choreography to Tchaikovsky’s immortal music. There are 3pm shows Saturday and Sunday, as well as an evening performance at 7pm on Saturday. Prior to the Saturday matinee, a Nutcracker Brunch will feature the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Snow Queen, and Cavalier. The strolling brunch features a festive menu, sweet treats, and libations, including a Bloody Mary bar, mimosas, themed cocktails, and wine from 1pm to 3pm. It takes place in the Donor Lounge at the Great Lakes Center for the Arts.

Tickets: Show only, $5–$50. Brunch, $150 each and includes a reserved upper-level seat for the matinee of “The Nutcracker.” (231) 439-2610, www.greatlakescfa.org
 
Crooked Tree Art Center School of Music Winter Collage Concert
Dec. 18
Petoskey
CTAC Director of Music EducationKevin Richardson leads several numerous different student groups in the winter concert, now in its second year. “It’s annual now,” said Richardson with a laugh. Though in its infancy, the performance brings together all the talented students in the art center’s various music programs, including strings, ukulele, jazz, and rock.
 
The show will include holiday favorites like “Jingle Bells,” “Sleigh Ride,” and “Christmas Time is Here” from A Charlie Brown Christmas, as well as some non-holiday offerings. Richardson said the groups includes all ages, from 5 to 80. The performance will take place in the CTAC theatre.

Tickets: Free.
 
Interlochen Center for the Arts presents Swan Lake
Dec. 6–8; Dec. 15–16
Interlochen, Cheboygan
The Interlochen Arts Academy Dance Co. switches off each year between “The Nutcracker” and this year’s presentation, “Swan Lake.” The beloved tale of a princess turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer's curse was Tchaikovsky’s first ballet, written 20 years prior to “The Nutcracker.” It debuted in Moscow in 1877, to less than positive reviews. It was called too complicated, too noisy, and too symphonic. Despite that, it survived and, over the years, thrived, making its American debut with the San Francisco Ballet in 1940. It is now one of the most popular of all ballets.

Interlochen Director of Dance Joseph Morrissey tells us thatthis year’s production has been completely reimagined, with new sets, new staging, and brand new costumes — purchased from the Boston Ballet, following a previous cooperative initiative it had with the former Soviet Union. This performance, on stage in Interlochen’s Corson Auditorium, will feature live accompaniment by the Interlochen Arts Academy Orchestra, under the conduction of Dr. Leslie B. Dunner.

Bonus: For those in the northern part of the Lower Peninsula, Interlochen is taking “Swan Lake” on the road, presenting it at the Cheboygan Opera House Dec. 15 and 16.
 
Tickets: Interlochen, $11–$29, www.interlochen.org; Cheboygan, $12–$29, (231) 627-5432, www.theoperahouse.org
 
Ramsdell presents “The Nutcracker”
Nov. 30; Dec. 1, 2, 7–9
Manistee
You can never have too many nutcrackers. For this presentation at the historic Ramsdell Theatre in Manistee, dancers from across Mason, Benzie, and Manistee counties will be coming together for several performances. The production is a collaborative holiday celebration directed by Ingrid Bond, with more than150 cast members and volunteers from across county lines.

Interestingly, Tschaikovsky's score and the ballet premiered at nearly the same time the Ramsdell was built. That's why this version is set in its Victorian era heyday — to enable the audience to see and appreciate some of the unique features of the Ramsdell stage.
 
Tickets: $10–$25, www.mynorthtickets.org
 
Milliken Auditorium presents Irish Christmas in America, Dec. 2
Now in its 14thseason, the always popular “Irish Christmas in America”features popular Irish music and songs, enlivened by spirited Irish step dancing. The show combines Irish history and storytelling with music by the likes of award-winning vocalist Séamus Begleyand Sligo’s Niamh Farrell, all with a holiday bent. Music? Check. Singing? Check. History, humor, and boundless energy? All that and more. The show features Irish ballads, upbeat instrumental tunes, and Irish dancing, while evocative photographic images provide a backdrop to some of the Emerald Isle’s rich historical traditions.

Tickets: $25–$30, www.mynorthtickets.com
 
Northwest Michigan Ballet presents "The Nutcracker"
Dec. 8
Benzonia
Wait, still more Nutcracker? You bet. This performance by the Northwest Michigan Ballet Theatre will take place Dec. 8 at the Benzie Central High School Auditorium at 7pm.
 
This youth ballet company was founded in September of 1997 by Director Thomas Morrell and has performedoriginal full-length ballet productions for more than two decades. After years of introducing the public to lesser-known stories ranging from "The Legend of Knockgrafton" and "Deirdre: A Celtic Tale," to original story ballets like “Scenes From A Park" and "Song of Wyoming," artistic director Thomas Morrell has chosen to present this holiday favorite. The 19 core company members will be joined by more than two dozen younger dancers, adults and professional dancers to bring this Tchaikovsky classic to life.

Tickets: $10–$15, www.mynorthtickets.com
 
The Messiah,
Dec. 20, Dec. 21
Petoskey, Bay Harbor
The Great Lakes Chamber Orchestra and Chorus is once again presenting its annual Messiah concert — first at St. Francis Xavier Church in Petoskey, then at the Great Lakes Center for the Arts in Bay Harbor —and for the first time in many years, the performance includes Parts I (prophecy and nativity), II (passion and resurrection), and III (resurrection of humankind). This is the 18th season for the Great Lakes Chamber Orchestra, which now includes some 70 members and is led by Music Director Libor Ondras. Its performance of Handel's Messiah is an annual tradition.
 
Composed in 1741 by Handel and librettist Charles Jennens, the first section concerns the Prophecy and the Nativity, the second the Passion and Resurrection, and the final section the Resurrection of all humankind.It was first performed in Dublin on 13 April 1742 and received its London premiere nearly a year later. In the centuries since then it has become one of the best-known and most frequently performed choral works in Western music; many of its performances were adapted for giant orchestras and choirs.

Tickets: For Dec. 20 in Petoskey, $50, or free for those 18 and under. For Dec. 21 in Bay Harbor, $25–$50. www.mynorthtickets.com
 
Traverse Symphony Orchestra’s “Home for the Holidays
Dec. 15 and 16
Interlochen
The Traverse Symphony Orchestra is performing this traditional holiday favorite for the first time at Corson Auditorium on the campus of Interlochen Center for the Arts. Guest conductor Lonnie Klein will be at the podium to direct the orchestra, though he won’t be the only one: Each year the TSO auctions off a chance to direct the orchestra, and the mystery conductors (one for each show) will get their chance to wave the wand and move the symphony along.
 
Selections will include Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” (listen for the whip, clip clop of hooves and the horse’s whinnying) and the Gene Autry version of “Here Comes Santa Claus.” Among the more than 200 performers will be Interlochen Director of Theatre Bill Church, who will read some selections from “A Christmas Carol.” At the end, a sing-along will include the audience members as well.

Tickets: $25.50–$61.50. www.traversesymphony.org
 
Get Outta Town!
Grand Rapids offers TSO, other holiday treats
So you want to go to the big city for some holiday cheer? You’re in luck, because the biggest, baddest holiday show of them all is once again hitting Grand Rapids. The Trans-Siberian Orchestra annually performs its mega-show at Van Andel Arena. This year’s show on Dec. 2 is part of the band’s 20th consecutive year of touring.
 
The shows are legendary for their size and scope, with multiple stages, fog and flames, all in the service of a bombastic, metal-edged style of progressive rock all dressed up for the holidays. The tour attracts perhaps the most diverse audiences of any show, ranging in age from eight to 80.
 
In the best “the show must go on” tradition, TSO musical director Derek Wieland said the band was able to continue despite the unexpected death of founder and producer Paul O’Neill in April 2017 because of what O’Neill had laid out since founding the group in 1993. “Paul had a transcendent vision of what the Trans-Siberian Orchestra was all about. It’s more than entertainment — it’s moving, emotive, and something to bring people together.”
 
Wieland is a graduate of Julliard who appreciates and performs in a number of other genres, including a stint this summer in Shakespeare in the Park in New York City. He and guitarist Al Pitrelli, who has been a part of the TSO since the beginning (Wieland has been with it for 14 years) rehearse the two bands for several weeks before beginning the tour. Together they perform more than 100 shows in 60-some cities, most (like Grand Rapids) featuring two performances each day.
 
O’Neill always wanted to make the show bigger and better, and give the audience a three-hour respite from whatever else might be going on in their lives. Wieland said that hasn’t changed. “The show brings the adrenaline for the audience and performers. That’s what it’s really about.”
 
Tickets are still available for the Dec. 8 shows. See www.ticketmaster.com.
 
That’s not all that’s going on in the state’s second-largest city. Check out www.experiencegr.com for more information on these and other holiday specials:

• Christmas and Holiday Tradition Around the World exhibit at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, Nov. 20–Jan. 6
• Grand Rapids Ballet presents The Nutcracker,Dec. 14–16 & 21–23
• Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra Wolverine Worldwide Holiday Pops, Dec. 6–9
 
 

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