The holiday season has arrived. For many folks, getting in the spirit means annual family traditions of taking in a Christmas show (or two). Luckily, in Northeast Ohio there are topnotch Yuletide productions that cater to all tastes.
Here’s a look at what’s being offered this year:
The Great Lakes Theater’s production of A Christmas Carol is running now through Sat 12/23 in the Ohio Theatre at Playhouse Square. The company’s 29th presentation of Charles Dickens’ classic, which was famous adapted by Gerald Freedman, finds Tom Ford returning for his second year as director.
“The amazing thing about this particular production is that it’s almost 30 years old and the special effects in it still work,” Ford said. “Audiences still gasp. There are still moments that amaze. They still have magic to them. It’s fantastic that in an age where you can have CGI create anything in a film that both young people and adults come and are still surprised by stagecraft that was created 30 years ago.”
The Great Lakes Theater production boasts memorable elements such as backdrop-breaking scenery and the chain-wielding Jacob Marley’s Ghost. What’s unique about Freedman’s adaptation is A Christmas Carol is presented as a story-within-a-story.
The fictitious Cleaveland family gathers in its Victorian-era parlor on Christmas Eve to read Dickens’ book. As Mrs. Cleaveland reads the story to her family, her youngest child, Master William, re-imagines familiar faces as characters in the story: Crotchety manservant becomes Scrooge, Father becomes Bob Cratchit, mother becomes Belle and Master William himself becomes the Tiny Tim.
Ford said the experience of A Christmas Carol varies depending on your age.
“As you come to it from different stages in your life, it is a very different experience each time you read or see it,” Ford said. “Now I can see it through the eyes of Scrooge and that affects me on a completely different level to more easily empathize with this character’s journey.
“If we’re honest with ourselves, learning to live outside ourselves and outside our concerns is something we fail at almost every day. Being generous with other people, being kind to other people and making a difference in the world is a challenge to every person on this planet. That’s why this story never goes away.”
Cleveland Play House’s A Christmas Story returns this holiday season with performances now through Sat 12/23 at Playhouse Square’s Allen Theatre. The popular tale tells the story of nine-year-old Ralphie Parker and his quest for a shiny new Red Ryder BB gun.
Included in this year’s cast is a first for the Cleveland Play House’s A Christmas Story. Bainbridge brothers Jake Spencer, 10, and Sam Spencer, 7, are playing the roles of siblings Ralphie and Randy.
Both of the brothers said while they enjoy playing their A Christmas Story characters, offstage they are completely different from Ralphie and Randy.
“I’m not as weird as Randy because he hides and always says ‘I gotta go wee-wee,’” Sam said. “Randy also complains more than me. Randy likes Ralphie, but he doesn’t know Ralphie doesn’t like him.”
Added Spencer, “In the play I’m always super annoyed by Randy, but in real life I’m not always annoyed by Sam.”
The production, which is based on the 1983 motion picture written by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown and Bob Clark that was set in 1940s Indiana (and, of course, filmed in Cleveland), incorporates all of the most memorable elements such as the leg lamp and bunny suit from the movie, along with new scenes for the stage.
“It’s a family show so anyone can come watch it,” Sam said. “I like the play more than the movie.”
“It’s amazing and funny,” Spencer said. “It never gets old, no matter what.”
For those theatergoers who feel jaded regarding the over-commercialization of Christmas, the answer for more than 15 years has been taking in the Cleveland Public Theatre’s The Santaland Diaries.
American humorist David Sedaris’ hilarious show, which appears through Sun 12/17 at PlayhouseSquare’s Outcalt Theatre, revolves around a 33-year-old out-of-work actor who takes a job as costumed Christmas elf Crumpet at Macy’s department store.
Playing the role of the opinionated seasonal holiday worker this year is David Hansen, who twice directed The Santaland Diaries.
“This is my first shot at performing the role of Crumpet, and frankly, I was surprised to be asked,” Hansen said. “I don’t think I can any longer reasonably pass as a 33-year-old man applying for a job as an elf.
“Director Eric Schmiedl decided we should present this as a memory play, in which I wistfully or somewhat painfully recall being a late ’80s slacker enduring my first holiday job, and that lends the proceedings a touch of sweetness.”
Perhaps the reason why Schmiedl picked Hansen for the role of Crumpet is the actor’s self-admitted acidic sense of humor, which he said often leaves people questioning whether he’s joking or not. Another reason why Hansen said he gravitated to The Santaland Diaries is Sedaris’ basic desire for people to be decent to each other.
“Santaland Diaries is drop-dead hilarious, but it’s also a cautionary tale,” Hansen said. “Sedaris shares his personal experience coping with all manner of outrageously unpleasant coworkers and holiday shoppers. Once the laughter stops, however, hopefully the audience will take a moment to wonder, ‘Wait, was he talking about me? I don’t want to be that guy.’”