It’s the holidays. Again. A time for family and friends and frivolity. Again.

At a certain point, though, many of us feel a sense of sameness about it all, especially when it comes to that “frivolity” part. You know—holiday entertainment.

This is not a knock on A Christmas Carol or Nutcracker or Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s annual bit of hilarity, Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some). They’re great fun, especially the first few times you see them.

But at some point, you need to take a break.

Isn’t there something else out there?

Good news. The answer is “yes.”

This year, three Greater Cincinnati theaters are presenting world premiere holiday shows. And another theater—the area’s tiniest—is hosting the return of a beloved one-person holiday production.

Stylistically, the four shows couldn’t be more different. One is zany, another strange, the third is feisty and the fourth is warm and fuzzy.

Let’s start with that last one.

Tim Perrino, the artistic director of Cincinnati Landmark Productions, is always on the lookout for a popular holiday show for Landmark’s Covedale Center for the Performing Arts. (Landmark also operates the Warsaw Federal Incline Theatre.) Over the years, he’s managed to find a string of solid and appealing shows and put them into an informal rotation.

“There are certain themes and traditions I feel are important for us to return to during the holidays,” says Perrino. “These shows we’ve done in the past are all very different. But if you look at them, the sentiments behind them are similar. They’re the kinds of shows that give us a chance to celebrate with our families and friends and our community.”

So every five or six years, a holiday show will reappear on the Covedale stage. White Christmas has been one of them, along with Miracle on 34th Street and A Christmas Story, a stage version of the memorable film about Jean Shepherd’s Depression-era Christmases in Cleveland. Perrino even stages his own version of A Christmas Carol every few years. It’s proven successful, despite competing with Bruce Cromer’s Scrooge in the lavish Cincinnati Playhouse production.

But this year, Perrino came up with another solution. He wrote his own holiday show.

It’s something he’s been thinking about for nearly five years. It’s titled The Nights Before Christmas, and it’s about Clement C. Moore, the man who wrote “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” (Originally, it was known as “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”)

Perrino didn’t do it alone, though. He is not, by his own admission, a musician. So he enlisted the help of composer Steve Goers, music director of many fine productions at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music.

“Steve has done several shows here,” says Perrino, “so I already had a good working relationship with him. As soon as I asked him to do this, he was on board with it.”

The resulting show, according to Covedale promotional materials, will be “filled with romance, heartbreak and mystery.” The mystery, incidentally, is because there has always been some question if Moore, an enormously wealthy theologian and religious historian, actually wrote the poem.

Meanwhile, the Know Theatre of Cincinnati is producing the world premiere of The Darkest Night at the Gnarly Stump. It’s more a winter show than strictly a holiday one. But be assured that the holiday season does find its way into this spooky Appalachian tale.

The musical was commissioned by the Know and features a script by Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin. The pair live in Los Angeles, but they are known to Cincinnati audiences as the creators of a pair of earlier Know productions: Saturday the 14th and We Will Rise: Stories from the Afghan Women’s Writing Project. The two hit the national media limelight earlier this year when they sold a script to Disney for a live-action version of Mulan.

Working with them is storyteller/performer/composer Paul Strickland, co-author of one of last year’s most intriguing Know productions, Andy’s House of [blank].

The tale begins with a pair of sisters lost in the mountains of Appalachia. When one sister wanders off to locate the source of mysterious music she’s heard, the other takes refuge in a backwoods bar—the Gnarly Stump. There she’s told they can’t begin a search until midnight. In the meantime, of course, it’s a guarantee that they’ll find plenty of opportunity to sing a few songs.

The third world premiere is Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s Cinderella: After Ever After. The last time we saw Cinderella and her Prince at ETC—last December, coincidentally—they were madly in love and getting ready to live a life happily ever after.

But that was too cut-and-dried for playwright Joseph McDonough, composer Fitz Patton and lyricist David Kisor, who have been creating ETC’s holiday entertainments for the past decade or so. In the same way that Wicked visited The Wizard of Oz before author L. Frank Baum’s tale begins, McDonough, Paton and Kisor stick around after the wedding reception to see how Cinderella and her Prince are managing.

“Let’s just say real life has a few bumps in store for them,” says ETC producing managing director D. Lynn Meyers, who directs the show. “I think it’s pretty hilarious.” Typically, Meyers fills the holiday show cast with many of ETC’s favorite actors. This year’s show is likely to be much the same.

The fourth option is The 12 Dates of Christmas, a one-person show starring Annie Kalahurka and performed at the Clifton Performance Theatre, a place so small that a crowd of 50 constitutes “jam-packed.”

Ginna Hoben’s script tells the tale of Mary, a 30-ish woman who is still getting over the Worst Thanksgiving Ever. While visiting her parents in Ohio—Mary lives in New York—she spotted her fiancé making out with another woman in the crowd at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.

Wary of leaping headlong into the world of relationships, Mary has spent the past year indulging in the occasional date. Some are hilarious. But most have ranged somewhere between outlandish and downright painful.

Kalahurka has done the show before. And each time, her wit has grown more razor sharp. She’s working with director Liz Smith again, so it will be intriguing to see what the pair come up with this time.

So there you have it. Four new ways to look at the holidays. Don’t ignore the old standbys. They’re pretty terrific, too—that’s why they’ve survived so long.

But when you start shopping around for live theater this holiday season, these are four fine productions to consider adding to your personal holiday stocking.



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