Ivoryton and Other Connecticut Theaters Offer New Options for Holiday Theater-Going

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By Karen Isaacs

Are you anticipating the holiday rush with pleasure? Or are you already feeling stressed?

No matter your answer, A Christmas Survival Guide at Ivoryton Playhouse is just the ticket. Artistic Director Jacqui Hubbard was looking for something different as a holiday offering and found this intimate revue that has had a had a successful off-Broadway run and been performed around the country.

“I was looking for something funny but meaningful,” Hubbard said. “Traditional but modern.” She thinks this revue featuring a cast of five is a treat for the whole family and will make the holiday fun. The premise of the revue is that the characters charge into an urban holiday landscape with a positive attitude and a copy of the book, A Christmas Survival Guide in search of the true essence of the holiday.

It features both traditional songs and carols and at times humorous versions of well-known songs. As Hubbard said, “the tongue is firmly planted in the cheek!” Among the familiar songs are “Silver Bells” and “Carol of the Bells” as well as lesser known or humorous songs such as “The Twelve Steps of Christmas” and “Reindeer Boogie”.

The show runs Thursday, Dec. 2 to Sunday, Dec.19. For tickets visit IvorytonPlayhouse.org.

A Christmas Story is a classic film and story about Ralphie and his desire for a BB gun. A fine musical version of the show – I loved it on Broadway – has been rehearsing at the Palace Theatre in Waterbury prior to going on tour. You can see the cast’s first performances in front of a live audience on Dec 3 and 4. For tickets visit PalaceTheaterCT.org.

Looking for something “more adult”? MTC in Norwalk is presenting the one woman, one hour comedy The Who’s Holiday. This show by Matthew Lombardo has Connecticut roots. It began as a short scene as part of TheaterWorks’ popular holiday show, Christmas on the Rocks. Lombardo then expanded it in a longer piece that has had audiences laughing.

From The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, we all know Cindy Lou Who, the little girl that caught the Grinch and mistook him for Santa Claus. Now, Cindy Lou is all grown up and regales us with the aftermath of that story while mixing gin and vodka. Let’s just say that her life veered far from the path you would expect of that sweet little girl.

It has been described as having a type of campy, bitter humor even though Lombardo wrote almost the entire show in Seussian rhyming couplets.

The Who’s Holiday runs from Friday, Dec. 10 to Sunday, Dec. 19. For tickets, visit MusicTheatreOfCT.com

Another new holiday play, though in a gentler vein, is at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford. Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, is set two years after Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice ends. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet are married and hosting Christmas as his home, Pemberley. The family gathers, and quiet, bookish Mary meets an unexpected guest that sparks her hopes for independence, intellectual companionship and maybe even love.

Previous productions of this play, which runs Wednesday, Dec. 1 to Sunday, Dec. 19, have been described as “unstuffy,” “warm-spirited,” and “something multiple generations can enjoy together.” In the lobby, River Bend Bookshop will be on site with Jane Austen-themed gifts, classic novels and other items. For tickets visit PlayhouseOnPark.org.

Keely Baisden Knudsen, artistic director of the new Legacy Theatre in Branford has created her own adaptation of A Christmas Carol which runs from Wednesday, Dec 1 to Sunday, 12.  She explained that she created this adaptation because “I appreciate how Scrooge’s backstory, including his loving relationship with his sister who passed and his failed relationship to his betrothed, contributed to his isolating himself (and his currency) as a means of protection towards future pain and loss.”  This version highlights his love lost before we see the present-day Scrooge.  James Andreassi, well known for New Haven audiences from his work with Elm Shakespeare Company plays Scrooge. For tickets visit LegacyTheatreCT.org.

Hartford Stage is presenting It’s a Wonderful Life – the Radio Play to Sunday, Dec. 26. This version of the classic film is set as a 1940s radio play. You see the performers entering the studio and then beginning the broadcast, switching characters and voices; plus you get to see the sound effects that will make the listening audience feel it is real. Tickets are at HartfordStage.org.

Adults and teens will enjoy TheaterWorks in Hartford is bringing back the ever popular Christmas on the Rocks from Thursday, Dec. 2 to Thursday, Dec. 23. The show features short playlets each featuring well-known Christmas child characters imagining the child into adulthood with both humorous and touching results. TWHartford.org lets you purchase tickets for either virtual or in person performances.

For the Kids

Two productions are aimed at children: The Downtown Cabaret in Bridgeport is presenting a new holiday show, The Santa Story about how a young St. Nick became Santa Claus. It includes music and merriment for the entire family, though the show is best suited for children under 10 or so. The audience sits at tables and you may bring your own refreshments, though snacks are available. The show runs Saturday, Dec. 4 to Thursday, Dec. 30.  For tickets visit dtcab.com or call 203-576-1636.

In Milford, The Littlest Christmas Tree produced by Pantochino Productions plays at the Milford Arts Council from Friday, Dec. 3 to Sunday, Dec. 19. It’s new musical about an elf who must find a Christmas tree for Santa. A collections trees come to life hoping to be chosen for the honor. Seating is at tables and audience members can bring their own food and drink. For tickets and information visit pantochino.com

Shore Line Trolley Museum in East Haven has set up Santa’s trolley car to allow for social distancing. No sitting on his lap, but you will be able to get photos and elves will give each child a gift. You can then stroll through the decorated trolley barns and take a ride on an antique trolled. Reservations are required. Weekends through Sunday, Dec. 19. Visit ShoreLineTrolley.org.

Music and More

You have your choice of two different programs by the New Haven Symphony this holiday season. The popular Holiday Extravaganza under the baton of Chelsea Tipton performs holiday classics and new favorites on Saturday, Dec. 11 at the Lyman Center on the SCSU campus and Sunday, Dec. 12 at Shelton High School. Dr. Tiffany Renee Jackson, a New Haven favorite is the soloist.

On a more classical note, the symphony under the baton of Alasdair Neale offers Handel’s The Messiah with the professional chamber choir from New Haven’s Christ Church. Performances are Thursday, Dec. 16 at Sacred Heart University Community Theatre and on Friday, Dec.17 at St. Mary’s Church in New Haven. For information or tickets, visit NewHavenSymphony.org

Goodspeed may not have a Christmas show (wait until next year), but they are offering two musical events. From Thursday, Dec. 9 to Sunday, Dec. 12, you can enjoy A Bing Crosby Christmas starring Jared Bradshaw and featuring the music of the Andrews Sisters. It will include some of the most popular Christmas songs and memories from “White Christmas” and “Jingle Bells” to Andrews Sisters favorites.  From Thursday, Dec. 16 to Sunday, Dec. 19, Broadway performer Heidi Kettenring brings her show Merry Christmas Darling: Heidi Kettenring sings Karen Carpenter to the stage. Holiday songs will be mixed with well-known Carpenter hits. For tickets visit Goodspeed.org

At the Jorgensen Auditorium on the UConn campus in Storrs, the Boston Pops’ Holiday Pops will perform Saturday, Dec. 4 with the Metropolitan Chorale.  Tickets at Jorgensen.UConn.edu

The Nutcracker in all its variations is back this year. Eastern Connecticut Ballet is featuring three New York City Ballet dancers in its production on Saturday, Dec. 11 and Sunday, Dec. 12. This show has spectacular scenery showing old New London from the 1850s. In addition there’s multimedia and film. For tickets, visit EasternCTBallet.org  

A different take on the familiar ballet is The Hip Hop Nutcracker which will be live at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven on Thursday, Dec. 23. It includes hip hop pioneer Kurtis “The Breaks” Blow as the MC with a dozen dancers, an on-stage DJ and electric violinist.  If you can’t make it in New Haven, it is at the Bushnell in Hartford on Friday, Dec. 17.

Also at the Bushnell is singer Jim Brickman with his The Gift of Christmas concert on Sunday, Dec. 19. Tickets at Bushnell.org

More popular music concerts feature The Drifters- Holiday & Hits at The Kate in Old Saybrook on Saturday, Dec. 12 as well as A Carpenters Christmas on Thursday, Dec. 2, Judy Collins with An Evening of Holiday and Hits on Monday, Dec. 6 and Wednesday, Dec. 8. The Connecticut Gay Men’s Chorus has their concert on Sunday, Dec. 12. Tickets are at KatharineHepburnTheater.org

Ugly sweater parties are a newer fad and the Essex Steam Train is joining in the fun with an audience participation mystery on Friday, Dec. 3. It’s billed as The Ugly Sweater Party to Remember! as a stand-up comedy performance takes a deadly turn. The audience must solve the mystery. It begins at 9 pm with drinks and light appetizers before you board the train to join the show until 11:30 pm. Visit EssexStreamTrain.com

Holiday Lights

Light displays are spectacular and make it easy to maintain social distance. Ivoryton’s well-known Illuminations is back this year though with no big opening night. Just drive by or park and stroll around the displays. Olde Mistick Village’s display is best seen walking around the shops and restaurants.

Drive through light displays include the 27th Annual Fantasy of Lights at New Haven’s Lighthouse Point Park through Friday, Dec. 31 benefitting Goodwill. Holiday Light Fantasia at Goodwin Park in Hartford benefits the Channel 3 Kids Camp. It runs to Sunday, Jan. 2

In New York City

New York City is offering two different takes on A Christmas Carol. A Sherlock Carol is a new play by Mark Shanahan that is playing off-Broadway through Jan. 2. In this version, a grown-up Tiny Time turns to Sherlock Holmes to solve the mystery of Scrooge’s death. For tickets visit Telecharge.com. The Merchant House Museum is reprising its solo adaptation of the story from Dec. 1 to 31. Here, John Kevin Jones portrays Charles Dickens retelling the classic story as he on tours of America. Tickets are available at SummonersEnsemble.org and MerchantsHouse.org In addition, last year’s virtual version of the show is available to stream on demand.

Closer to home, the Bronx Zoo’s holiday lights exhibit runs through Sunday Jan. 9. Large parts of the zoo are decorated with animal lanterns, light displays and animated light shows. In addition there is entertainment and music. Tickets must be purchased in advance for a specific day and time. The holiday lights begin at 4:30 each evening. Indoor exhibits are closed during the evening. For more information and tickets visit BronxZoo.com /Holiday-lights

A warning — everything is subject to change. So always check the website to get the up-to-the-minute details not only on dates and times, but also on covid protocols. Many venues require proof of vaccination or a recent negative test as well as masks.

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