December 2023 Theater Guide: The Reason for the Season is Love

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's principal artist Tommie Lin O’Hanlon in 'The Nutcracker.' (Photo: Rosalie O’Connor)

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s principal artist Tommie Lin O’Hanlon in ‘The Nutcracker.’ (Photo: Rosalie O’Connor)

Feliz Navidad, Joyeux Noel, Happy Hanukkah, and Festive Kwanzaa! As is lauded on stages across the city, and all so essential to the economic health of performing arts companies across the country, celebrating Christmas comes in many theatrical forms. Whether it’s a carol, a story, a tableau, a dance or concert, there are so many opportunities for families and friends to share the holiday spirit this season. 

Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker will reawaken the dreams of children in three different productions, while A Christmas Story (with two different productions; one a stage play, the other a musical) will recall the memories of the season celebrated in 1940 America. Perhaps new to Pittsburgh audiences this year is a stage version of the Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney holiday favorite, White Christmas, as well as a murder-mystery-mistletoe romp, The Game’s Afoot: Holmes for the Holiday. Of course, it can’t be Christmas without Dickens’s perennial Carol (for which we recommend two different adaptations, too!) 

Yet, for those who might be tired of “humbug,” there’s an alternate Dickens tale to enjoy in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Still, do not close the curtains (rather, open your shutters and throw up the sash) and consider truly meaningful modern dance in Rowhouse or dare to think unkindly of Dr. Seuss’ favorite little world in Who’s Holiday. These are all festive treats, given with lots of love, on Pittsburgh’s many stages this December. The Theater Guide outline is created by the theater writers and theater editors of Entertainment Central. Mike Vargo (M.V.) also contributed to this guide. (C.P.O.)

Spotlight Picks

Irving Berlin’s WHITE CHRISTMAS (musical) adapted from the Paramount film, with music by Irving Berlin. Little Lake Theatre. November 30 to December 16.

Originally released in 1954 as the first film to employ VistaVision, White Christmas is the story of two army buddies––one a crooner, the other a dancing comic––who follow a “singing sisters” act to a holiday resort in Vermont. To the buddies’ surprise, the resort is owned by their much-adored former General, who, for reasons more than the unseasonably warm weather, finds his retirement dreams melting away. Fortunately, the romantic interests among the four entertainers begets a lot of great love songs, including “How Deep is the Ocean,” “I Love a Piano,” “Blue Skies,” and, indeed, the title song. All written and composed by Irving Berlin, the show’s tunes are each magical and, bundled together with a big red bow, become a welcome Christmas surprise. Little Lake Theatre offers up the stage version of this holiday treat for the entire family. 500 Lakeside Drive South, Canonsburg, PA. (C.P.O.) 

WHO’S HOLIDAY! (one-woman show) written by Matthew Lombardo. Pittsburgh CLO Cabaret. December 1 – 31. 

Once upon a time, centuries ago, the holiday season was a time for partying till your pants came off. That’s why the Puritans banned Christmas celebrations, which the preacher Cotton Mather described as twelve days of “lewd gaming,” “rude reveling,” and “licentious liberty.” We don’t take quite so many liberties these days, but some of us like to get a little naughty along with the nice—and therefore Pittsburgh CLO Cabaret is staging the one-woman show Who’s Holiday!  It’s an evening with Cindy Lou Who, best known as the cute little tyke from How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Now that she’s grown up, her idea of holiday cheer has evolved. To quote from the trigger warning on the web: “This show is specifically designed to be viewed by adults …. This show contains crude indecent language, depictions of alcohol abuse, depictions of substance abuse, and intensely suggestive dialogue.” Would that be sufficient to trigger your interest? Lara Hayhurst plays Cindy Lou, understudied by Lu Zielinski, from a script by playwright Matthew Lombardo. See Who’s Holiday! at the Greer Cabaret Theater, 655 Penn Ave., Cultural District. (M.V.)

THE GAME’S AFOOT, OR HOLMES FOR THE HOLIDAYS (comedy/mystery) by Ken Ludwig. Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center. December 1 to 17. 

Winning the Edgar Allan Poe Award for best play in 2012, The Game’s Afoot is a Sherlock Holmes mystery without Sherlock Holmes. Rather, the central character is William Gillette, a famous actor of the early 1900s who played the deerstalker-ed detective 1,300 times to American and English audiences. Gillette was something of an inventor, too, creating real stage illusions, and famously incorporating other contraptions into his getaway castle in East Haddam, Connecticut. That’s all historically true, but The Game’s Afoot, or Holmes for the Holidays is something of a comic farce. When Gillette invites his cast mates to spend the holidays with him in his castle, a fellow thespian, quite suddenly, quite tragically, and everso mysteriously, dies. To catch the killer and solve the case, Gillette dons his famous character’s smoking jacket, picks up his meerschaum, and proves that Sherlock Holmes can be quite the comic, especially during the holidays. Beware, tickets for this Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center production might vanish soon. 1 Lincoln Park, Midland, PA. (C.P.O.)

ROWHOUSE (dance) presented by Attack Theatre. December 1 to 9.

Miranda Nichols (l.) and Bella Bergamin (r.) in Attack Theatre's world premier of 'Rowhouse.'

Miranda Nichols (l.) and Bella Bergamin (r.) in Attack Theatre’s world premiere of ‘Rowhouse.’

In a world premiere created by co-founders Peter Kope and Michele de la Reza, Attack Theatre stages a new dance and musical journey titled Rowhouse in the company’s studios in Lawrenceville. The performance features live music by Dave Eggar and his band, as well as by actress-singer-rapper Le’Asha Julius who has opened for the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Salt-N-Pepa, and Talib Kweli. Dave Eggar is, of course, the three-time Grammy nominee whose genre-bending compositions with cello and piano have brought him great acclaim. Also getting top billing is dancer and co-choreographer Sabrina Liu, Pittsburgh’s “own” who trained with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and last season choreographed for Attack Theatre’s Solo Shoe Show. In addition, a company of seven other dancers are featured. About the dance composition, de la Reza said, “Having lived in row houses in Wilkinsburg and dense apartments of NYC, I never quite knew what was on the other side of that shared wall. The different personalities of footsteps, babies crying, music playing, people yelling…I heard it all.” Performed on a rotating set, Rowhouse examines the interior, exterior and “the complex ambiguities of space” called home. Friday and Saturday performances (and one Sunday matinee) are presented at Attack Theatre Studios, 212 45th St., Lawrenceville. (C.P.O.)

THE NUTCRACKER (ballet) by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Texture Contemporary Ballet. December 2, 3 (August Wilson Center), and 9 with the Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra (Palace Theatre). 

Avery Walz and Alan Obuzor perform in Texture Contemporary Ballet's 'The Nutcracker.' (Photo: Gary Stone)

Avery Walz and Alan Obuzor perform in Texture Contemporary Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker.’ (Photo: Gary Stone)

For kids and older adults who love Tchaikovsky’s immortal Christmas ballet but who have early bedtimes (all the better for dreaming of sugarplums,) Pittsburgh’s Texture Contemporary Ballet offers four daytime performances for anyone to enjoy. At the August Wilson Center, Texture’s School and Company will present one morning and one matinee performance on December 2 and 3, respectively. The following Saturday, the production teams up with the Westmoreland Symphony at Greensburg’s Palace Theatre for two more performances, the first at 11 a.m. and a second at 3 p.m. But don’t think that Texture’s Nutcracker is just for kids. With more than 100 performers led by Artistic Director Alan Obozur in choreography he created along with his former associate, Kelsey Bartman, Texture Contemporary Ballet also features Company dancers Baylee Sullivan and Elaina Sutula, along with faculty and guest artists Christopher Brandy, Erin Leach, and Katherine Rotz. Of course, students of Texture Ballet School will dance, too. The August Wilson Center is at  980 Liberty Ave., Cultural District, and the Palace Theatre is at 21 W. Otterman St., Greensburg. (C.P.O.)

THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD (musical) by Rupert Holmes, from the unfinished novel by Charles Dickens. Pittsburgh Playhouse Conservatory Theatre. December 6 -10. 

In the category of weird and wacky stage musicals, The Mystery of Edwin Drood ranks high. Like Oliver!, it’s adapted from a Charles Dickens novel, except Dickens provided only about half of the story. When the author died in 1870, he had written just a few chapters beyond the point where Edwin Drood—a young man caught in a web of interpersonal dramas—vanished after a Christmas Eve dinner, with evidence pointing to murder. The mystery became a famous literary cold case, full of plot twists and loose threads left dangling. More than a century later, the pop singer and writer Rupert Holmes jumped in. Holmes turned the grim tale into a rollicking musical comedy in the style of London music-hall shows of the late 1800s. He also wrote numerous possible endings. The idea was that partway into Act II, each night’s audience would vote on who killed Drood as well as on other matters. Then the cast would play out the chosen denouement(s). A tricky concept, but it worked. The Mystery of Edwin Drood swept the 1985 Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book, and Best Score. The Conservatory Theatre Company at Point Park University’s Pittsburgh Playhouse now invites you to get your Drood on for a rare local production. 350 Forbes Ave., Downtown. (M.V.)

A CHRISTMAS STORY: THE PLAY (comedy) by Philip Grecian, adapted from the film and story by Jean Shepherd and others. Pittsburgh Public Theater. December 7 – 23.

Chances are, if you’re not familiar with the classic film about little Ralphie Parker whose holiday memories of freezing his tongue to a lamppost, witnessing his father’s obsession for roast turkey, or hoping against all hope (lest he shoot his eye out) to find that Red Ryder BB gun under the Christmas tree, you’ll want to attend any of dozens of other holiday events. But the Pittsburgh Public Theater’s production of A Christmas Story was so well received last year, it’s returning to the O’Reilly Theater again this December.  With a splendid cast and a setting reminiscent of small-town (could-be-Pittsburgh) Indiana, A Christmas Story is a sweet and sentimental journey of American values in the early 1940s. Pittsburgh Public Theater tickets go faster than a slide in Santa-land. 621 Penn Ave., Cultural District. (C.P.O.)

THE NUTCRACKER (ballet) with music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, choreographed by Terrence S. Orr. December 8 – 28, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.

Here comes the ballet that even non-ballet fans enjoy. The Nutcracker provides a big share of annual ticket sales for ballet companies across the nation, and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s production is among the grandest. It was developed by PBT’s former longtime artistic director, Terrence S. Orr, who drew in part from the original 1892 choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. But Orr also studied contemporary versions, then teamed with his PBT colleagues to create a one-of-a-kind synthesis of classical ballet, modern artistry, and stunning stagecraft. (See the background story here.) This Nutcracker is set at an old-time Christmas party in Pittsburgh at the turn of the last century. Then, as we move into the realm of fantasy—with the Nutcracker doll coming to life and leading a cast of adult and child dancers through a visit to the Land of Enchantment—there are dazzling special dances, amazing magic tricks, and breathtaking stage effects. The music of course is by Tchaikovsky, and The Nutcracker is presented this holiday season under the aegis of Pittsburgh Ballet’s current artistic director, Adam W. McKinney. PBT’s production includes local celebrity appearances on certain nights. Those participating include Kym Gable and Daisy Jade from KDKA-TV, Scott Blasey of The Clarks, Gisele Baretto Fetterman, and rapper Frzy. Benedum Center, 237 7th St., Cultural District. (M.V.)

A LYRICAL CHRISTMAS CAROL (musical) by Ken and Jane Gargaro, from the Dickens story. Pittsburgh Musical Theater. December 13 – 18. 

The cast of PMT's 'A Lyrical Christmas Carol' experience the magic of the season. (Photo: Matt Polk)

The cast of PMT’s ‘A Lyrical Christmas Carol’ experience the magic of the season. (Photo: Matt Polk)

The centuries have seen countless stage versions of the Christmas tale by Charles Dickens, and a longtime standard here in Pittsburgh is Ken and Jane Gargaro’s A Lyrical Christmas Carol. Ken Gargaro was founding director of the Pittsburgh Musical Theater school and performance center. He wrote A Lyrical Christmas Carol with Jane and premiered the show in 1991. It has been delighting local audiences ever since. This year’s show features up-and-coming young performers from the PMT school along with professional artists. A Lyrical Christmas Carol includes song-and-dance numbers that will send you home in a supercharged holiday spirit. At PMT’s Gargaro Theater, 327 S. Main St., West End. (M.V.) 

A MUSICAL CHRISTMAS CAROL (play with music) by David H. Bell, from the Dickens story. December 15 – 23. Pittsburgh CLO.

Tiny Tim experiences the joy of the holidays in Pittsburgh CLO's 'A Musical Christmas Carol.'

Tiny Tim experiences the joy of the holidays in Pittsburgh CLO’s ‘A Musical Christmas Carol.’

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is considered schmaltz by some but high art by many others. In Japan, the novella has been viewed as one of the great works of English literature—“possibly in a league with Hamlet,” as one Japanese scholar wrote. Distinguished actors who’ve played Ebenezer Scrooge range from Lionel Barrymore to, memorably, Michael Caine in The Muppet Christmas Carol, with Kermit and Miss Piggy as Bob and Mrs. Cratchit. In Pittsburgh CLO’s production of A Musical Christmas Carol, Scrooge is played this year by Broadway veteran Michael Cerveris, a two-time Tony Award winner (for his roles as John Wilkes Booth in Assassins and the dad in Fun Home). The Cratchits are Aaron Galligan-Stierle and Lisa Ann Goldsmith, while Daniel Krell appears as both Marley’s ghost and young, very-much-alive Marley. The latter was not in Dickens’ original story but he shows up here because CLO uses an adaptation by American playwright David H. Bell, who added scenes that help to flesh out the narrative nicely. A Musical Christmas Carol plays at the Byham Theater, 101 6th St., Cultural District. (M.V.)

THE NUTCRACKER (ballet) by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center. December 14 – 17.

In case any newcomers to our city wondered: Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center is not related to the Chicago zoo of the same name. It is a regional hub of arts activity in Midland, Pennsylvania, down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh. The Center includes a charter high school of the performing arts, along with fully equipped theaters for professional and amateur productions and other cultural events. A big show during the holiday season at Lincoln Park is the annual staging of a well-known Christmas ballet—none other than Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. 1 Lincoln Park, Midland. (M.V.)

A CHRISTMAS STORY: THE MUSICAL. Book by Joseph Robinette, based on the story by Jean Shepherd, with music and lyrics by Pasek and Paul. Presented by Westmoreland Performing Arts. December 22 & 23.

Renowned for their collaborative work on Dear Evan Hansen, La La Land, and James and the Giant Peach, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul composed nearly twenty show tunes to help deliver the acclaimed Jean Shepherd tale (see above) onto the Broadway stage. Pasek and Paul’s A Christmas Story: The Musical was developed in 2010 and enjoyed limited engagements in New York the following two years. Nominated for dozens of awards, a national tour quickly ensued and continues seasonally. Greensburg’s Palace Theater welcomes the heartwarming tale of the Parker family’s funny and frantic escapades for two performances only, on Friday evening and Saturday evening just before Christmas. Palace Theatre, 21 W. Otterman Street, Greensburg.  (C.P.O.)


AMERICAN BUFFALO (comedy/drama) by David Mamet. barebones productions. Through December 10. 

Are you ready for a David Mamet revival? The onetime Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright is still alive and working, but he’s a changed man lately, drawing fire for his bizarre sociopolitical remarks and for plays that haven’t clicked. The thing to remember is that peak Mamet is really good. And out of his many past hits on stage and screen—such as Glengarry Glen Ross, which took the the 1984 Pulitzer for Drama, and House of Games, the spellbinding film in which a con man meets a psychiatrist—there are Mametophiles who say American Buffalo is their favorite. This early (1975) play, like some later Mamets, features small-time hustlers who try to get ahead by getting over on people. Three guys plan to steal a coin collection that includes a rare and valuable buffalo nickel. When the scheme doesn’t unfold smoothly, the question is: Who’s really getting buffaloed? Barebones productions presents American Buffalo in the barebones black box. 1211 Braddock Ave., Braddock. (M.V.) 

MISS BENNET: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY (comedy) by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, directed by Kyle Haden. City Theatre. Through December 17.

City Theatre's 'Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley' has (l. to r.) Gabrielle Kogut, Sophia Macy, and Hansel Tan. (Photo: Kristi Jan Hoover)

City Theatre’s ‘Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley’ has (l. to r.) Gabrielle Kogut, Sophia Macy, and Hansel Tan. (Photo: Kristi Jan Hoover)

Mary, the bookish middle sister of the five Bennet sisters whose “high station” antics comprise most of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, celebrates Christmas at the palatial estate of her brother-in-law, Fitzwilliam Darcy, married now to Elizabeth. The story unfolds two years after the conclusion of Austen’s 1813 novel. All of the Bennets, Darcys and Bingleys are flitting around somewhere when an unexpected guest is welcomed into the festive fray. Mary manages to lift her nose from a book to take notice. If, indeed, she “admires the activity of [the man’s] benevolence,” she certainly intends not to “depreciate the pleasures.”  Which is all to suggest that City Theatre’s holiday offering is steeped––like a welcome cup of Earl Grey––in the rich and restorative joys of Jane Austen’s classic world. 1300 Bingham St., South Side. (C.P.O.)

MRS. DOUBTFIRE THE MUSICAL (musical comedy) adapted from the 1993 movie, with music and lyrics by Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick, and a book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell, directed by Jerry Zaks. National touring company at the Benedum. Through December 3.

When down-on-his-luck actor Daniel Hillard loses custody of his three children in divorce, he schemes a way to stay in their lives by becoming the family’s nanny, the inimitable Mrs. Euphegenia Doubtfire. The Twentieth Century Studios film that helped immortalize the late Robin Williams is also a musical, and its Broadway stars, Rob McClure (two-time Tony nominee) and real-life wife Maggie Lakis (Avenue Q), are on the road to Pittsburgh. With more than 17 numbers performed by a cast of 25, Mrs. Doubtfire The Musical proves that most fathers will do anything for their kids, even if it means cleaning the house and scrubbing the toilets. “Let Go” and “What the Hell” are perhaps the best songs of the show; titled together they are apt advice to buy your tickets now before it’s too late. PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh series at Benedum Center.  237 7th St., Cultural District. (C.P.O.) 

Big Shows on the Horizon
(Opening Dates)

January 9
Girl from the North Country (PNC Broadway)

January 30
My Fair Lady

C. Prentiss Orr writes about theater for Entertainment Central. He has worked in theater management and has also taught theater. 

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