Jolly Holidays

Previewing the many holiday performances on tap this season

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and right now every arts organization and venue in the Washington area is gearing up to offer shows and events — many, many shows and events, to an almost overwhelming degree — toasting the jolly, joyous spirit of the winter holiday season. That’s true whether the show is ballet or symphony, a carol sing-along or a stage show, religious or non-religious.

The 2013 holiday season officially launches Wednesday, Nov. 27 — the first day of the eight-day Jewish holiday Hanukkah. Among Hanukkah-themed events, there’s a live performance of Hanukkah Lights Reading, the popular radio broadcast by NPR’s Susan Stamberg and Murray Horwitz, set for Monday, Dec. 2, at Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital. There’s also the Jewish reggae/rock musician Matisyahu, whose Festival of Light concert plays Monday, Dec. 9, at the 9:30 Club. Also of note is the annual concert by Rob Tannenbaum and David Fagin, who comprise the comedic rock band Good for the Jews and who perform specifically for Jews on Christmas Eve, Tuesday, Dec. 24, at this now annual event at Jammin Java.

This season brings an eclectic assortment of holiday shows with specific appeal to the LGBT community. The standard-bearer, of course, is the annual holiday show from the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, this year titled “Sparkle, Jingle, Joy” and featuring the great gay singer-songwriter and former Chanticleer Matt Alber. The GMCW show runs Friday, Dec. 20, and Saturday, Dec. 21, at Lisner Auditorium. Meanwhile, Baltimore’s zaniest filmmaker and certain hilarious raconteur returns for the annual A John Waters Christmas, an evening of stand-up and storytelling set for Wednesday, Dec. 18, at The Birchmere.

And then there are at least two other zany shows, starting with Shi-Queeta Lee’s special Xmas edition of “A Drag Salute to the Divas” called Dreamgirls Twisted. The show features Lee and fellow drag queens and kings lip-synching right along to the soundtrack of that Tony-winning musical, for a performance Tuesday, Dec. 3, at the Howard Theatre. The other zany — and downright queer — production this season is the Best of Burlesque(er)’s Down & Dirty Holigay Blues Burlesque, an event hyped as offering “some of the hottest queers taking it all off for you,” and set for Friday, Dec. 6, at the Black Cat.

Washington will see no less than three live versions of The Nutcracker ballet this year. There’s the D.C.-centric version from The Washington Ballet, opening Thursday, Dec. 5, and running to Dec. 29 at the Warner Theatre. Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet comes to town, featuring live music from the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra and the Arlington Children’s Chorus, starting Wednesday Nov. 27, and running to Dec. 1 at the Kennedy Center Opera House. And there’s Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker featuring 40 Russian artists performing Olympic-like feats in the holiday classic, on Monday, Dec. 16, at Strathmore.

Even more than The Nutcracker, it just wouldn’t be Christmas without Handel’s Messiah. This year offers the choice between the National Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorale and soloists set for Saturday, Dec. 15, at Strathmore, or Rossen Milanov leading the National Symphony Orchestra and the Choral Arts Society and soloists for a weekend run starting Thursday, Dec. 19, at the Kennedy Center.

But, naturally, there are plenty more choral options beyond the Messiah in what is regarded as the choral capital of the country. Among these: Robert Shafer’s City Chorus of Washington offers The Holly and The Ivy: Music for Christmas Sunday, Dec. 15, at the National Presbyterian Church; The Washington Chorus presents several performances of A Candlelight Christmas, starting Sunday, Dec. 15, at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, as well as performances Thursday, Dec. 19, and Monday, Dec. 23, at Strathmore; The Choral Arts Society of Washington presents the Italian-themed An Enchanted Christmas, a collaboration with the Italian Embassy in performances starting Monday, Dec. 16, at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

For even more multi-culti twists on holiday traditions, there’s the 31st annual Christmas Revels from The Washington Revels, featuring folk music, dance and drama from Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, and presented over two weekends starting Saturday, Dec. 7, at Lisner Auditorium. There’s also the Folger Consort, whose holiday show this year focuses on Christmas in New Spain: Early Music of Mexico and Peru, with performances starting Friday, Dec. 13, and running to Dec. 22 at the Folger Theatre.

You have three options if your taste runs more Celtic/Irish: The Celtic Tenors offer A Celtic Christmas Friday, Dec. 6, at Rams Head Center Stage at the Maryland Live! Casino in Hanover, Md.; The Celts present Christmas with the Celts Sunday, Dec. 15, at the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club; and The Irish Tenors sing hits and holiday classics in “the Premiere Irish Holiday Celebration Tour” Saturday, Dec. 21, at Strathmore.

Also this season the Washington National Opera debuts a world premiere holiday family opera, an adaptation of the children’s book about the biblical Nativity tale, The Lion, the Unicorn, and Me. The production opens Saturday, Dec. 14, and runs to Dec. 22, at the Kennedy Center.

Three big-band jazz ensembles swing into action this season: the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra ventures from its U Street home base to reprise last year’s sold-out holiday concerts that included performance of Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker at Strathmore, Sunday, Dec. 8; the Preservation Hall Jazz Band from New Orleans offers “A Creole Christmas” on Monday, Dec. 2, at the Birchmere; and the Boston Brass and the Brass All-Stars Big Band presents the tribute show, A Stan Kenton Christmas, featuring jazzy orchestral holiday favorites, on Sunday, Dec. 1, at Strathmore. Meanwhile, the National Symphony Orchestra’s Happy Holidays! Pops program, put together by Steven Reineke, features Broadway veteran Brian Stokes Mitchell and runs Thursday, Dec. 12, through Saturday, Dec. 14, at the Kennedy Center.

Every year Ford’s Theatre stages a production of Charles Dickens’s perennially popular classic A Christmas Carol, now onstage and running to Jan. 1 at the historic venue. There’s also the return of an alternate version, A Commedia Christmas Carol, which the local Commedia dell-Arte-focused theater company Faction of Fools first produced last year. The show, which visually ramps up the spookiness, humanity and humor in Dickens’s text, gets restaged starting Friday, Nov. 29, and running to Dec. 22, at Gallaudet University’s Elstad Auditorium. But wait, there’s still more: The Kennedy Center will present the stage version of the Hollywood hit Elf the Musical, starting Tuesday, Dec. 17, and running to Jan. 5.

And then there are those shows that are hard to describe, or can’t be pinned down to just one arts category. These “Above and Beyond” offerings include Holiday Cirque from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, a show featuring holiday favorites played by the BSO while awe-inspiring aerial artists and mind-boggling contortionists perform. Performances start Wednesday, Dec. 11, at the Meyerhoff, and Thursday, Dec. 12, at Strathmore.

Doug Rule is a theater critic and contributing editor for Metro Weekly.

Please Leave a Comment

Join Our Email List!

Our daily emails are personally curated by our editors and feature a wide range of news, features, reviews and interviews. Don't miss out on any of our award-winning content -- from news to arts, cars to tech, food to fitness, we've got a bit of it all!

  • Breaking News!
  • Feature highlights and reviews!
  • Win DVDs, CDs & Tickets to Shows!
  • Special Ticket Discounts!

Join Our Email List!

Our daily emails are personally curated by our editors and feature a wide range of news, features, reviews and interviews. Don't miss out on any of our award-winning content -- from news to arts, cars to tech, food to fitness, we've got it all!

  • Breaking News!
  • Feature highlights and reviews!
  • Win DVDs, CDs & Tickets to Shows!
  • Special Ticket Discounts!