Holiday Performance Preview

You know the drill. It’s time to celebrate the holidays. Not Thanksgiving. That’s practically yesterday. We’re talking about THE HOLIDAYS, when families reunite, and the grandparents will inevitably come bearing sweaters for everybody.

THE HOLIDAYS are a period of non-stop entertainments, and nothing is a better example of the schizophrenic nature of THE HOLIDAYS than the world of performance entertainment. It is a time of ongoing recitals in concert halls, cathedrals, small and large churches, and theaters — the music being pop and popular, secular and spiritual.

We promise nothing as expansive as a complete listing. For those left out, we apologize, and instead offer the most Christmas of blessings: “God bless you, everyone!” courtesy of Tiny Tim. And a happy HOLIDAYS to you.

The Kennedy Center and Strathmore

The Kennedy Center is practically a Christmas Mecca. Not only is the Nutcracker Ballet coming to town Nov. 24 and 26-28, but a version of Handel’s “Messiah.” The National Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Rinaldo Alessandrini, will perform Handel’s classic with soloists Klara Ek, Alisa Kolosva, Michele Angelin, Joan Martin Royo, and the University of Maryland Concert Choir on December 16. In addition, on December 23 the Concert Hall will host the free “Messiah” Sing-Along, a Kennedy Center tradition featuring guest conductor Barry Hemphill leading the KC Opera House Orchestra, a 200-voice choir, and audience members all performing Handel’s masterpiece.

Check out National Public Radio’s “A Jazz Piano Christmas”, on December 11 at the Terrace Theater, the NSO Pops “Happy Holidays” with Marvin Hamlisch and special guests, on December 9 at the Concert Hall, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band performing a Creole Christmas, at the Terrace Theater on December 17.

What’s more, you can always come to the Millennium Stage where everything is free daily. Samples include “An Irish Christmas” December 14, a Merry Tuba Christmas December 8, the DC Youth Orchestra December 12, Holiday Vaudeville December 26, and the All-Star Christmas Day Jazz Jam.

At Strathmore in Bethesda, there’s “O Come Let Us Adore Him” with the Mormon Orchestra and Choir of Washington, DC November 27, a major concert event. On December 1, the King’s Singers present their holiday event “Joy to the World.” The group will perform traditional and popular Christmas carols and songs and readings in a genuine seasonal performance.

On December 2 comes the 2010 Kenny G Holiday show, a popular pop-flavored performance. On December 7, the National Philharmonic and DC Concert Ministries will present “It’s a Wonderful Christmas”, with Michael W. Smith, a bestselling singer/songwriter of contemporary Christian music.

Not to be missed is the December 10 concert “Bowfire: Holiday Heart Strings.” “Bowfire” is an increasingly popular group specializing in string instrumentals and led by Lenny Solomon. Prepare to be happily strung out by a virtuoso group.

On December 11 and 12, there’s the National Philharmonic performing “Handel’s Messiah”, under the direction of founder and creator Piotr Gajewski.

Musicals this Season

In the 1940s, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein changed the American musical landscape altogether by injecting a dose of theatrical seriousness into a string of drama-infused musicals, beginning with “Oklahoma!”

You won’t find such a hit streak as enjoyed by this partnership: “Oklahoma!”, “Carousel”, “South Pacific”, and “The King and I.” Washingtonians can see what all the fuss was about with two dead-perfect revivals.

“Oklahoma!” re-imagined and recreated for our times by Arena Stage Artistic Director Molly Smith, was the perfect launching pad for the new and stunning Mead Center for American Theater. Smartly cast, hugely entertaining, and fresh as a land-rush morning, this production is even rumored to be a possible candidate for a Broadway bid. The production repeats the rush of excitement and satisfaction generated by the original. See it if you can. It runs at the Fichandler through December 26.

Meanwhile, the Kennedy Center’s Opera House has the road company of the Lincoln Center’s award-winning revival of “South Pacific,” which held the longest-running title for a long time. Great songs like “Some Enchanted Evening” ripple through the World War II Pacific settings, where mismatched lovers try to find their way to each other’s hearts.

Speaking of a different kind of musical, “Candide” is landing at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in a new co-production with the Goodman Theater in Chicago. Music by Leonard Bernstein and additional lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, based on the novel by 18th century French philosopher Voltaire.

“Candide” is about an aristocratic, cockeyed optimist, who is disabused of some of his naiveté by bouts of life experience. Based on past productions, the musical is a creation that manages to be challenging, sumptuous, engaging, cerebral, and witty. “Candide” starts November 26.

The Christmas offering at the Olney Theater Center in Olney, Maryland is something for the whole family. You can’t get more optimistic than “Annie”, a huge hit musical when it first surfaced on Broadway in the 1970s and perfect feel-good stuff for the season. Directed by Mark Waldrop, “Annie” runs now through January 7.

Nuts & Scrooges

When it comes to holiday performance offerings, there are two things you can count on: Nutcrackers and Scrooges.

There is no escaping “The Nutcracker,” Tchaikovsky’s omnipresent vision of a kind of Victorian Christmas with a sinister figure bearing gifts and a dream landscape where toy soldiers are deployed to battle the king of the rats. On top of which, “The Nutcracker” contains some of the most beautiful music in the world.

Here in Washington, there are no doubt dozens of “Nutcrackers” in the area. Closer to home, there’s the yearly presentation by the splendid Washington Ballet and Artistic Director Septime Webre’s version, which features George Washington as the heroic nutcracker and George III as the rat king. It’s also a thickly-populated production, using more than 300 dancers over the course of its four-week run at the Warner Theater.

There will be special guests taking part in the production on December 10: the Washington Nationals’ Racing Presidents. This “Nutcracker” will run at the Warner Theater from December 2 to the 26, as well as THEARC Theater on November 27 and 28.

Meanwhile, the world-renowned Joffrey Ballet returns to the Kennedy Center’s Opera House for its version of “The Nutcracker,” designed by company founder Robert Joffrey, November 24 through the 28.

On a smaller scale, but trailing just as much magic, is the annual “Nutcracker” put on by the Puppet Company at Glenn Echo Park, November 26-December 31. The show has been an enduringly popular production from the Puppet Company founded in 1983, using hand puppets, rod puppets, marionettes, and shadow puppets to stage full productions of popular and landmark tales for children. The company is the work of Allan Stevens, Christopher and Mayfield Piper, and Eric Brooks.

Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” which Dickens performed in music halls and theaters throughout England and America, is said to have been the spark that became Christmas as we know it today. The story works like a well-oiled machine and is on the holiday calendar of hundreds of American theater companies.

The long-standing yearly production at the Ford’s Theater is always one of the best offerings, especially now that Ed Gero, one of Washington’s very best actors, has taken up the part of Scrooge again for this year’s run, November 20-January 2.

At Olney on December 16, actor Paul Morella takes up Scrooge in a one-man show, using only the words of Dickens’ novel to tell and make the audience feel the story.

In a less reverent version, but one that promises to be great fun, there’s “A Broadway Christmas Carol,” November 18-December 19, at Metro Stage in Alexandria. This comedic version, mixed with parodies of Broadway show tunes, is a creation of Cathy Feiniger, directed by Larry Kaye, and featuring Peter Boyer as Scrooge.

Let’s give a shout-out to the Adventure Theater staging of “The Happy Elf” by Harry Connick Jr., a fully-produced workshop production at Montgomery College’s Robert E. Parilla Performing Arts Center in Rockville, through November 28.

Foldger Consort Teams Up With the Tallis Scholars for a Renaissance Christmas at Georgetown University

Robert Eisenstein is a musical scholar and teacher of considerable renown, so you listen when he tells you that music composed in the 18th and 19th centuries is modern. “I don’t like the term ‘classical music’,” Eisenstein says. “It’s not entirely accurate, and it’s limiting, too.”

Eisenstein is a founding member of the Folger Consort, considered to be a model national chamber music ensemble with a worldwide reputation. When he talks about classical music as a fairly recent development, you have to take it in the context of what kind of music the Consort performs. “We play what’s called early music,” he said. “That means it ranges from music composed from around the 12th century through the 18th Century.”

It’s music like that which will be played by the Folger Consort and guest singers, The Tallis Scholars, in “A Renaissance Christmas” at Georgetown University’s Gaston Hall, December 10-12. “When we’re talking Renaissance here, we don’t mean Italian Renaissance,” Eisenstein said. “We’re talking essentially English Renaissance and English compositions.”

The Consort, which does about four concerts a year from various periods and on various themes, is usually in the company of guest artists, and in The Tallis Scholars they have what critics call “rock stars of early music.” They have performed in China, the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, and celebrated their 25th anniversary at London’s National Gallery.

Said Eisenstein, “The music…is on the surface exquisitely beautiful but also conveys the meaning of the season with great depth.”

Expect a moving performance.

Other Holiday Musical Highlights

THE EMBASSY SERIES will host a concert called “Songs from Call Me Madam”, referencing the legendary Irving Berlin musical based on the life of another legend, the late and great Washington hostess Pearl Mesta (dubbed the “Hostess with the Mostest“). The concert will be held at the Embassy of Luxembourg on December 4. Performers include Klea Blackhurst, a singer and actress best known for her award-winning tribute show to Ethel Merman, singer Angela Marchese, singer David Blalock, performer and actor Lawrence Redmond, who dazzled audiences in “Jerry Springer: The Opera” at the Studio Theater, and pianist George Peachey

THE NATIONAL CATHEDRAL will be the site of a presentation of “Handel’s Messiah” December 3 and 4, with Michael McCarthy conducting the National Cathedral’s men and youth choirs, backed by a Baroque orchestra.

On December 11-12, it’s “The Joy of Christmas” at the Cathedral, a generous concert of Christmas music that has become a Washington favorite. Performers include the Heritage Signature Chorale. There will be a special family matinee at noon on the 12.
The Children’s Christmas Pageant will be held at the cathedral December 19 at 2 p.m.

THE UNITED STATES ARMY BAND, PERSHING’S OWN, will celebrate the holidays with its annual “A Holiday Festival” at the Daughters of the American Revolution Hall, December 10-12.

THE WASHINGTON REVELS’ annual celebration of the Christmas solstice will be held, once again, at Liner Auditorium at George Washington University, December 4-5 and December 10-12.

THE CHORAL ARTS SOCIETY OF WASHINGTON will perform its “Christmas Music – A Treasured Holiday Tradition” concert at the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall December 13, 21, and 24 and its family Christmas Concert at the Terrace Theater December 18.

A CELTIC CHRISTMAS, an annual Georgetown and Washington Christmas treasure will be performed at the historic Dumbarton Methodist Church, as part of the Dumbarton Concerts series, with the Barnes & Hampton Celtic Consort. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Celtic Christmas concert, which will run December 4, 5, 11, and 12.

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