Wisconsin holiday stages sparkle with tradition

Michael Muckian, Contributing writer

It’s time to celebrate the season onstage, and Wisconsin offers a theatrical Christmas stocking full of choices to get you in the holiday mood.

Bah! Humbug!

The Milwaukee Rep brings back Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, everyone’s favorite morality tale of greed and redemption. Dickens penned the original novella over a six-week period in the fall of 1843 because he needed the money, but it was an immediate success and remains the English-speaking world’s most popular Christmas story. Scholars see it as an indictment of 19th-century industrial capitalism. 

Now in its 38th year, The Rep production was adapted by Joseph Hanreddy and Edward Morgan. Aaron Posner, who directed last year’s lauded production, is once again at the helm. A Christmas Carol runs through Dec. 24 at Milwaukee’s Pabst Theatre. (www.milwaukeerep.com).

Children’s Theater of Madison brings its annual production of A Christmas Carol back to the Capitol Theater at Madison’s Overture Center for the Arts Dec. 13–23. American Players Theatre’s James Ridge reprises his role as Scrooge. (overturecenter.com/production/a-christmas-carol.)

The West Bend Masonic Center will host a community theater production of the Dickens classic performed in the round and with an accompaniment of Victorian Christmas carols. Performances run Dec. 5–8 and Dec. 13–15. (www.westbendchristmascarol.com)

The Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in Appleton will host Nebraska Theater Caravan’s traveling production of A Christmas Carol on Dec. 4. (www.foxcitiespac.org/events/christmas-carol)

Wausau Community Theater performs its version of the holiday favorite Dec. 13–15 (www.wausaucommunitytheatre.org).

For a less-than-reverent look at Ebenezer Scrooge, try A Kick in the Dickens 2 at The Alchemist Theatre in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood. Some original songs and comedic skits create an impromptu one-act “lost Charles Dickens play” based on audience input. There’s a full bar for a not-so-silent night of holiday frolic. The show runs Dec. 5–28 (thealchemisttheatre.com).

Many gappy returns

Anyone unfamiliar with It’s a Wonderful Life, film director Frank Capra’s 1946 holiday tearjerker, must not own a television. Those who want a slightly different take on the story can catch Next Act Theatre’s It’s A Wonderful Life: Live Radio Show. Actor Mary McDonald Kerr’s adaptation takes audiences to a vintage 1940s radio production studio for a performance that’s complete with live music, sound effects and a little Milwaukee nostalgia. The play runs Dec. 12 through Jan. 5 (www.netxact.org).

Ready for a little M’waukee Christmas dere, hey? In Tandem Theatre Co. is bringing back A Cudahy Caroler Christmas for youse guys dat know how to celebrate Cream City style. Join Stasch, PeeWee, Edna and Trixie as they warble their way through all your holiday favorites, including “We T’ree Guys from Cudahy Are,” “O, Bowling Night” and other seasonal favorites that will surely brings tears of laughter and put lumps in your eggnog. The production runs Nov. 29–Jan. 5. (intandemtheatre.org)

For those who like their Christmas Carol with a slightly more colorful spin, Madison’s Stage Q is producing Scrooge in Rouge, the perennial favorite that pits three actors against the 23 roles in Dickens’ holiday classic. In addition to the true meaning of Christmas, audiences will learn that “Ebenezer” rhymes with “geezer,” “teaser” and “squeeze ’er.” The show has nine weekend dates Dec. 6–21 at Madison’s Bartell Theater. (www.stageq.com)

For a little off-base humor, Chicago’s Second City is bringing its Nut-cracking Holiday Revue to Madison’s Barrymore Theatre on Dec. 18. The sketch comedy artists promise to capture all the magic, mystery and mayhem of the season with new bits and classic favorites. (www.barrymorelive.com).

O, Holy Night

Christmas operas are few and far between, but Gian Carol Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors surfaces every now and then. The one-act opera tells the story of a shepherd boy and his mother who receive a visit from the Magi on their way to Bethlehem. This production features the students of Viterbo University at the Fine Arts Center Main Theater in La Crosse. The opera is presented on Dec. 7 and Dec. 8 (www3.viterbo.edu/Templates/three-col-menu-fac.aspx?id=17179869419).

Not quite the holidays, but somehow appropriate

Door County’s American Folklore Theatre helped the late writer and lyricist Fred Alley become a star, and one of Alley’s and composer James Kaplan’s favorites is back for a limited run at Madison’s Barrymore Theatre. Guys on Ice tells the uniquely Wisconsin tales of buddies Marvin and Lloyd and the trials and tribulations of life in an ice fishing shanty. The show, featuring performers Doug Mancheski and Steve Koehler, runs for five weekend productions Dec. 19–29 (www.barrymorelive.com).

And all those ‘Nutcrackers’

Ballet is not a common family entertainment, but that hasn’t stopped Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker from becoming entertainment’s top holiday draw. Maybe it’s the sword-wielding Mouse King, the Christmas tree that grows to giant proportions or all those kids in the cast, but you can find productions of the ballet just about anywhere snow falls on the Badger State in December. Here is a list of choices:

Milwaukee Ballet, Dec. 14–27, Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, Milwaukee (www.milwaukeeballet.org)

Madison Ballet, Overture Center for the Arts, Dec. 14–24. (www.madisonballet.org)

Green Bay Nutcracker Ballet, presented by the Northeastern Wisconsin Dance Organization at Meyer Theatre, Green Bay, Dec. 7–9 (www.meyertheatre.org)

Central Wisconsin School of Ballet, Wausau’s Grand Theater, Dec. 7–8. (www.cwschoolofballet.com/nutcracker)

La Crosse Dance Center, Viterbo Fine Arts Center, Dec. 13–14 (www.lacrossedancecentre.org)

Nutcracker in the Castle, Paine Art Center and Gardens in Oshkosh, Nov. 22–Jan. 6, (www.thepaine.org)

The Dance Factory, Young Auditorium at UW-Whitewater, Dec. 14. (www.uww.edu/youngauditorium/season/nutcracker)

Valerie Harmon in Milwaukee Ballet’s 2012 production of The Nutcracker. Photo: Jessica Kaminski