40 holiday concerts and shows for 2023: From "Cirque" to "Messiah" – Chicago Tribune

The touring holiday show “Cirque Dreams Holidaze” is coming to the Auditorium Theatre this December. (Cirque Dreams Holidaze)
If nothing else, the holiday events calendar is proof that live performance is back. Pandemic programming is readapted for stage, while Christmas classics go all in for extended runs that look closer to “normal” than we’ve seen in three years. Here is our guide for putting a little extra cheer into the rest of the year.
“A Christmas Carol”: In his 15th year at Goodman, Larry Yando returns to play the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge. Yando splits the role with Austin Tichenor, and these leads are surrounded by a deep bench of committed actors who keep this timeless production fresh year after year. Goodman Theatre, through Dec. 31; also McAninch Arts Center in Glen Ellyn, Nov. 25-27; Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Arlington Heights, Dec. 1-24; Drury Lane Theatre, Oakbrook Terrace, Nov. 25 to Dec. 30; Riverfront Playhouse, Aurora, Dec. 9-18; Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Milwaukee, Nov. 29 to Dec. 24; and A Theater in the Dark (radio play streamed online), through Jan. 1, 2023.
Review: ‘A Christmas Carol’ at the Goodman Theatre tells Scrooge’s lesson anew every year ]
“Elf the Musical”: A song and dance version of the hit Will Ferrell film about a human raised by elves. Hilarity ensues as Buddy (Jake Morrissy) sojourns from the North Pole to New York City in search of his birthparents. Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace, through Jan. 8, 2023.
Review: ‘Elf: The Musical’ at Drury Lane Theatre: The cast does its best with a misguided coal lump of a musical ]
“A Christmas Story, The Musical”: An adaptation of the classic film leaves all the good bits in: the leg lamp, pink bunny pajamas, frozen flagpoles, et cetera. Kavon Newman makes his Marriott debut as Ralphie. Marriott Theatre, Lincolnshire, Nov. 9 to Jan. 1, 2023; also Jedlicka Performing Arts Center, Cicero, Nov. 25 to Dec. 10.
Review: ‘A Christmas Story’ at the Marriott Theatre lacks warmth, charm and Ralphie at its center ]
“Georgiana & Kitty: Christmas at Pemberley”: From Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon’s trilogy of holiday-themed extrapolations on Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” this last installment focuses on Mr. Darcy’s sweet sister and the fourth, least-known Bennet. Northlight Theatre, Skokie, Nov. 25 to Dec. 24.
Review: ‘Georgiana & Kitty: Christmas at Pemberley’ at Northlight Theatre is charming Jane Austen fan fiction ]
“It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!”: A Chicago tradition for more than 20 years, the iconic film is read as a radio play, performed live with a Foley artist covering key sound effects (a wing-getting bell ringing, for example). Chopin Theatre, Nov. 23 to Dec. 23; also Oil Lamp Theater’s final year, Glenview, Nov. 25 to Dec. 30.
“The Christmas Schooner”: A classic musical based on a true story about boatmen braving the Great Lakes in winter to bring Christmas trees to Chicago’s German immigrants. Beverly Arts Center, Dec. 8 to 11.
Morgan Lavenstein and the cast of Strawdog Theatre Company’s 2021 production of “Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins.” (Jenn Udoni/Franco / HANDOUT)
“Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins”: This adaptation of Eric Kimmel’s book finds a traveling troupe of actors stopping in a town where there’s no Hanukkah — on account of the synagogue being haunted by ghouls. Presented by Strawdog Theatre. The Edge off-Broadway, Dec. 11 to Jan. 1.
Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas”: Music Theater Works presents a stage version of the Golden Age film. Two rambunctious World War II vets put on a revue at a sleepy ski resort whilst chasing a pretty pair of singing sisters. North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, Skokie, Dec. 15 to Jan. 1
“Manual Cinema’s “Christmas Carol”: An adaptation of Dickens’ novel is presented live for the first time after a successful online debut in 2021. In a charming blend of old and new, the story centers on a contemporary woman hardened by modern holiday hassles. Her woes parallel those of Ebenezer Scrooge, told with live music and puppets in Manual Cinema’s singular style. Writers Theatre, Nov. 29 to Dec. 24.
Review: ‘Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol’ at Writers Theatre is at once both Dickens’ story and something profoundly different ]
“The Steadfast Tin Soldier”: A bite-sized, fun-for-the-whole-family alternative to Dickens, this heartwarming story about rooting for the little guy is based on a Hans Christian Andersen tale. Lookingglass Theatre, through Jan. 8, 2023.
The cast of “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” at Lookkingglass Theatre on Michigan Avenue. (Liz Lauren Photo)
The Beatrix Potter Holiday Tea Party: Bring your toddlers! Peter Rabbit and the gang to life come to life in a short and sweet interactive trunk and puppet show suitable for the youngest of theatergoers. Accessible sensory-friendly and ASL options run Dec. 10 and 11. Chicago Children’s Theatre, through Dec. 24
Alan Ayckbourn’s “Season’s Greetings”: Miles from your typical wholesome holiday flick, Alan Ayckbourn’s 1980 farce about a suburban British family at Christmas shares more in common with Bridget Jones than Tiny Tim. Presented by Buffalo Theatre Ensemble. McAninch Arts Center in Glen Ellyn, through Dec. 18.
“It Runs in the Family”: Ray Cooney’s 1987 laugh-out-loud comedy is set in a hospital three days before Christmas. As Dr. Mortimore practices a conference speech, a revolving door of misfits keeps interrupting. Citadel Theatre, Lake Forest, through Dec. 18.
The Second City: Chances abound to get your laugh on with Second City’s top-shelf improv artists. At UP Comedy Club: “What the Elf?” through Jan. 1, 2023; “Best of the Holidays” Nov. 21 to Dec. 31; “Holiday Improv Brunch,” Nov. 27 to Jan 1, 2023; Chicagoland: “The Second City’s Holiday Revue: I Saw Mommy Kissing the Second City,” Paramount Theatre, Aurora, Nov. 25 to Dec. 23; and “Jingle Bell Ruckus,” McAninch Arts Center, Glen Ellyn, Dec. 10.
“Who’s Holiday!”: Who says Seuss is just for kids? This Jeff Award-winning (adults-only) flight of fancy re-imagines Cindy Lou Who as a colorful grown-up who chugs vodka and chain smokes as she replays that storied night she met The Grinch. Theater Wit, Nov. 25 to Dec. 30.
Time Brickey and Kay Kron bring four Beatrix Potter tales to life in “The Beatrix Potter Holiday Tea Party” in 2021 at Chicago Children’s Theatre. (Charles Osgood)
“Christmas Bingo: It’s a Ho-Ho-Holy Night”: From the writer of the local hit “Late Nite Catechism” comes a revival of this holiday themed-comedy putting the audience’s trivia knowledge to the test. Self-proclaimed “Catholiccomic” Vicki Quade answers all your Biblical Christmas queries, like, “Why were the Three Wise Men so lost?” and “What did ‘Silent Night’ first sound like?” Greenhouse Theater Center, Nov. 26 to Dec. 31.
“The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes, The Obligatory Holiday Special”: Hell in a Handbag Productions brings drag personas of forever friends Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia together again. The girls’ latest antics unfold in a brand-new, heartwarming plot: As Christmas looms, they help out Sophia’s friends when the Shady Pines Retirement Community closes. Center on Halsted, Nov. 26 to Dec. 30.
“Cirque Dreams Holidaze”: Aerialists, magicians and acrobats perform dazzling feats to familiar holiday tunes in a concert approach to the classic circus. Acts will be surrounded by cute penguins and galloping reindeer — people in penguin and reindeer costumes, that is. Auditorium Theatre, Dec. 22 to 24. More cirque: “A Magical Cirque Christmas,” CIBC Theatre, Dec. 6 to 11.
Review: ‘A Magical Cirque Christmas’ is now at CIBC Theatre, but there are better holiday choices ]
“The Nutcracker”: The Joffrey Ballet’s Chicago-themed version of ballet’s holiday classic returns, with the Land of the Sweets set on the Midway at the 1893 World’s Fair. Joffrey Ballet at Lyric Opera House, Dec. 3-27. Other “Nutcrackers” include A&A Ballet, Athenaeum Theatre, Dec. 3; Ballet Legere, Lund Auditorium at Dominican University, Dec. 3-4; Ballet Chicago, Athenaeum Theatre, Dec. 9-18; Hyde Park School of Dance, Mandel Hall, Dec. 9-11; Ruth Page Civic Ballet, Northeastern Illinois University, Dec. 3-4, and College of Lake County, Dec. 17; Milwaukee Ballet, Milwaukee, Dec. 10-24; Salt Creek Ballet, McAninch Arts Center, Glen Ellyn, Dec. 17-18.
Review: ‘The Nutcracker’ by the Joffrey Ballet delivers its annual dose of magic ]
The cast of “The Nutcracker” by the Joffrey Ballet, set during the Chicago Columbian Exposition in 1893. (Cheryl Mann photo)
“The Nut Tapper”: Every year, local tap dance legend Reggio McLaughlin organizes a one-day nod to “The Nutcracker,” featuring his students and a handful of professionals performing percussive variations on Tchaikovsky’s score. Old Town School of Folk Music, Nov. 27.
“On Broadway”: The Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus joins forces with Chicago Tap Theatre for a festive concert blending holiday favorites with classics from the Great White Way. Harris Theater, Dec. 1; Beverly Arts Center, Dec. 3; and North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, Skokie, Dec. 4.
“Duke It Out!”: Musicians from Axiom Brass and the Music Institute of Chicago play a creative amalgam of “Nutcrackers.” Dancers join to interpret two versions: Tchaikovsky’s original score plus Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s jazzy take. Nichols Concert Hall, Dec. 10.
“Holiday Rhythms”: Hoofer Jumaane Taylor returns to hallowed ground for an evening of quintessential Chicago tap riffing side-by-side with a jazz quintet. Jazz Showcase, Dec. 12.
“Beyond the Nutcracker”: Faith-based Ballet 5:8 puts a spin on the story of Clara and her toy doll, infusing ballet’s holiday staple with the biblical story of Jesus’ birth. Lincoln-Way East High School, Frankfort, Dec. 17-18.
Handel’s “Messiah”: There are several chances to see versions of this seasonal oratorio in its entirety, including Bella Voce’s treatment for 21 voices and baroque period instruments. Old St. Patrick’s Church, Nov. 19; St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Evanston, Nov. 20; also Apollo’s Fire Baroque Orchestra at First Presbyterian Church, Evanston, Dec. 9; Apollo Chorus at the Harris Theater, Dec. 10-11; International Music Foundation’s “Do-It-Yourself Messiah” at Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist, Dec. 18; Illinois Philharmonic at Orzinga Chapel, Palos Heights, Dec. 17.
Musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra present “Merry Merry Chicago!” at Symphony Center. (Todd Rosenberg Photography / HANDOUT)
“Merry Christmas, Darling”: Chicagoan Heidi Kettenring gives her annual tribute to Karen Carpenter with a holiday-themed set from the late singer-songwriter’s catalog. Mercury Theater, Nov. 25-27.
“Candlelight Carols”: Led by choirmaster Jeffrey Hunt, the St. Charles Singers embark on a regional tour featuring lesser-known carols, many accompanied by harpist Erin Freund. St. Michael Catholic Church, Wheaton, Dec. 2; Fourth Presbyterian Church, Dec. 3; Backer Memorial United Methodist Church, St. Charles, Dec. 4.
“Brandenburg Concertos”: A complete play-through of J.S. Bach’s six “Brandenburg Concertos” by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Harris Theater, Dec. 14.
Music of the Baroque: The debut appearance from new choir director Andrew Megill includes a mix of Christmas carols, chants and sparkling brass selections. Grace Lutheran Church, River Forest, Dec. 15; St. Michael Church, Dec. 16; Saints Faith, Hope & Charity Church, Winnetka, Dec. 17; Alice Millar Chapel at Northwestern University, Evanston, Dec. 18.
“A Mexican Christmas”: The Newberry Consort’s 30 musicians revive ancient tunes to celebrate the holiday season. The evening runs the gamut stylistically, with convent hymns appearing alongside jovial street music played on rare instruments like bajón and quijada de burro. St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Evanston, Dec. 9; St. Alphonsus Church, Dec. 10; Mother of the Americas Parish, Dec. 11.
“Hanukkah a cappella”: This brand-new production includes vocal arrangements of traditional Hebrew folk songs mixed with vibrant new works sung by the 30-year-old troupe Chicago a Cappella. Congregation Rodfei Zedek, Dec. 10; Congregation Sukkat Shalom, Wilmette, Dec. 11.
“Merry, Merry Chicago”: Alastair Willis conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in an excerpt from Handel’s “Messiah,” “Carol of the Bells,” the Gingerbread Waltz from Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” and other on-brand holiday selections. Orchestra Hall, Dec. 16-23.
Straight No Chaser: Preeminent a cappella artists Straight No Chaser paved the way for popular look-alikes like Glee and Pentatonix. The group rolls through town for a holiday-themed performance while on their 25th-anniversary tour. Standards like the hilarious “12 Days of Christmas” will surely appear alongside newer songs from their pandemic holiday album: “Social Christmasing.” Chicago Theatre, Dec. 23.
Pentatonix’s “A Christmas Spectacular”: “The Voice” season 21 winner Girl Named Tom opens for the multiplatinum, Grammy Award-winning quintet. A grand affair, this “spectacular” promises to live up to its name. Allstate Arena, Rosemont, Dec. 1.
“A Very Countess Christmas!”: “Real Housewives of New York” star Luann de Lesseps, aka The Countess, teams with Broadway director Richard-Jay Alexander and music director Brian Nash for a glamorous, cabaret-style evening of popular and show tunes. Park West, Dec. 1-4.
“Too Hot to Handel: The Jazz-Gospel Messiah” is a Chicago tradition at the Auditorium Theatre, this year during the holidays. (Kristie Kahns)
“Too Hot to Handel”: This not-to-be-missed gospel rendition of Handel’s “Messiah” moves from its usual spot in February to the holiday season. Auditorium Theatre, Dec. 3-4.
iHeartRadio Jingle Ball: Among the headliners for this year’s star-studded Jingle Ball are Jack Harlow, Pitbull, Khalid and Macklemore. Allstate Arena, Dec. 5.
Dave Koz & Friends “Christmas Ballads”: For the 25th year running, saxophonist Koz assembles a gaggle of jazz artists to play new songs from his 8th Christmas album, released in September. Chicago Theatre, Dec. 8.
93XRT’S Holiday Jam: WXRT’s holiday giveaway is for tickets to Modest Mouse, who stops in Chicago as part of their “Lonesome Crowded West” tour — which includes a complete play-through of the 1997 album. Riviera Theatre, Dec. 9.
“Someday at Christmas”: Crooner John-Mark McGaha presents hits from Stevie Wonder’s catalog, including holiday tunes to keep the vibe festive. Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, Dec. 12-13.
Lauren Warnecke is a freelance writer.
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