Twin Cities holiday theater guide: From naughty to nice

Interested in what's on stage for the 2013 holiday season? Check out our calendar!

This is our guide to holiday theater in 2011. For our 2012 holiday theater guide, click here.

Safe bets for the whole family

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever!, SteppingStone Theatre
SteppingStone Theatre, St. Paul
Each year, the young performers at SteppingStone put on The Best Christmas Pageant Ever! Is it the best Christmas pageant ever? "If you haven't been to a school pageant yet this year," wrote Jean Gabler in 2008, "consider going to see this show." (December 2-23; steppingstonetheatre.org)

Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Radio Play, Mounds Theatre
Mounds Theatre, St. Paul
Presumably sensing Christmas Story fatigue after last year's double productions, the Mounds Theater moves this year to a live radio play. (December 2-18; moundstheatre.org)

Fezziwig's Feast, Actors Theatre of Minnesota

Harriet Island, St. Paul

This production addresses the most painful aspect of all other Christmas Carols: audience members don't get to eat any of the Fezziwigs' elaborate smorgasbord. Jean Gabler warmly recommends the show. (December 9-18; actorsmn.org)

Joy: A Holiday Cabaret, Interact Theatre
The Lab Theater, Minneapolis
Holiday VIP Kevin Kling is among the artists with and without disabilities appearing in this song-and-dance show. (November 19-December 17; interactcenter.com)

The Magic Dreidels, Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company
Hillcrest Recreation Center, St. Paul
MJTC gives Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins a rest, but fear not: there's still a goblin in this new holiday show. (December 13-22; mnjewishtheatre.org

The Match Girl's Gift: A Christmas Story, Minnesota Centennial Showboat

Minnesota Centennial Showboat, St. Paul

Returning to the Showboat under the direction of Rebekah Rentzel (Tales of the Perilously Grounded), this production promises a "family-friendly atmosphere"—in other words, the ending is left ambiguous. "Though it's a stiff draught of Innocent Starving Child," writes Jay in his Daily Planet review, "The Match Girl's Gift effectively demonstrates the enduring appeal of Andersen's story: every warm and festive holiday celebration is haunted by those left out in the cold." (November 25-December 31; riverrides.com)

The Nutcracker According to Mother Goose, Zenon Dance Company
Cowles Center for the Performing Arts, Minneapolis
After several years at the Southern Theater, Zenon's annual performance for (very) young audiences moves downtown to the shiny new Cowles Center. Kate Gallagher went last year, and wrote that "With a running time of only 45 minutes, even the most antsy children will be able to sit through the show...Parents will delight in the good, clean fun that's truly appropriate for all ages." (December 17-18; cowlescenter.org)

A Reindeer Line, Youth Performance Company
Howard Conn Fine Arts Center, Minneapolis
The promotional image of an anthropomorphic reindeer in long johns, tap shoes, and hip-huggers looks like something out of the fervid dream of a repressed Laplander who's been too long on the tundra—but never mind that. Fun for all ages, surely. (December 2-18; youthperformanceco.com)

A Silent Night for PEEF, Stages Theatre Company
Stages Theatre Company, Hopkins
At first the title may make you think this is a musical comedy about the Christmas when Aunt Olga didn't serve sauerkraut, and then when you learn it's about a teddy bear, you may start to wonder when, exactly, plush characters have loud nights—but never mind that. Fun for all ages, surely. (November 18-December 26; stagestheatre.org)

Winter Dreams, In the Heart of the Beast
In the Heart of the Beast, Minneapolis
A new animal-themed holiday show from the people with the big puppets on Lake Street. (December 2-30; hobt.org)

Best if pre-tamed with a box of zin

All Wrapped Up, Minnesota PerformDance featuring the Starettes
Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts, Minneapolis
The Starettes are billed as "the Twin Cities' answer to the famous New York City kick line." Well, better late than never. (December 2-3; cowlescenter.org)

Away in the Basement: A Church Basement Ladies Christmas, Troup America
Burnsville Performing Arts Center, Burnsville
The Church Basement Ladies move to Burnsville, where one suspects they will be welcomed with open arms. (opens November 5; burnsvillepac.com)

A Don't Hug Me Christmas Carol, Hennepin Theatre Trust (Don't Hug Me series)
New Century Theatre, Minneapolis

For Minnesotans who like to laugh at stereotypes of Minnesotans. "Regardless of how you perceive Christmas or Minnesota," wrote Betsy Gabler in her Daily Planet review last year, "A Don't Hug Me Christmas Carol offers a buffet of funny and endearing experiences any of us can pick from and feel right at home." (November 25-January 1; hennepintheatretrust.org)

Letters to Santa...Certified!, Janelle Ranek
Bryant-Lake Bowl, Minneapolis
Once again this Christmas, Ranek "explodes onto the stage portraying an entourage of characters," promises a press release. Sounds real wacky! (December 15-29; bryantlakebowl.com)

Miracle at 824 Hennepin Ave.: Skyway to the Manager Zone, Brave New Workshop
Brave New Workshop, Minneapolis
Dudley Riggs's venerable company relocates to their new space downtown—in the former Hennepin Stages location—for this new stockingful of holiday-themed sketches. (November 4-January 28; theatre.bravenewworkshop.com)

Miracle on Christmas Lake II, Yellow Tree Theatre

Yellow Tree Theatre, Osseo

Whether or not you love the play itself (here's Bev Wolfe's review of last year's production), you have to appreciate the fact that Yellow Tree founders Jason and Jessica Lind are in fact living a Christmas miracle up there in Osseo, now debuting a sequel (because nothing says "holiday theater" like "sequel") to the play that they had to compose hurriedly four years ago when the rights to their planned holiday show fell through. (November 25-January 1; yellowtreetheatre.com)

Miss Richfield 1981: Thirty Years on the Throne, Illusion Theater
Illusion Theater, Minneapolis
Here she is again, folks: Miss Richfield 1981, the drop-down, drag-out (hint, hint) winner of that fateful pageant nearly 30 years ago now. The last time we covered one of her shows, in 2008, Dwight Hobbes became offended and walked out on her. Will she be as politically incorrect this year? Well, her show title this year (unlike last) doesn't reference Asians, Jews, or "homos." (December 1-18; illusiontheater.org)

Nutcracker: The Lost Act!, Ballet of the Dolls
Ritz Theater, Minneapolis
It was probably inevitable that the Twin Cities would eventually get a burlesque Nutcracker—and that Ballet of the Dolls would be the ones to bring it to us. It's "charming and spirited," Jay wrote in his review, "even if not holiday-spirited." (December 9-31; ritzdolls.com

Plaid Tidings, Chanhassen Dinner Theatres
Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, Chanhassen
Forever Plaid
: still plaid, now with more Christmas. Stay strong, Chanhassen. (Opens November 4; chanhassentheatres.com)

Simply Barbra: A Christmas Show, Actors Theater of Minnesota
Camp Bar, St. Paul
Building a Christmas show around one of the world's most famous Jewish performers doesn't seem like the most obvious way to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but since Steven Brinberg didn't let being a man stop him from being Barbra, he's not about to let anything else stop him. (December 1-4; actorsmn.org)

Roasty chestnuts

Always and Forever Holiday Show, Illusion Theater
Illusion Theater, Minneapolis
Illusion Theater restages its musical revue Always and Forever with a holiday theme. "If you like this kind of music (and I do) and you like these performers (and I do)," wrote Matthew Everett in his review of the original production, "then there's absolutely no reason not to go and see Always and Forever at Illusion Theater." (December 22-January 8; illusiontheater.org)

A Christmas Carol, Guthrie Theater

Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis

For more than 35 years audiences have treasured the Guthrie's A Christmas Carol. Last season the Guthrie debuted a fresh take on Dickens' ghost story, featuring a new adaptation by British playwright Crispin Whittell, a new set, costumes, music, and fantastical aerial effects. Christopher Kehoe was disappointed in the drama of this year's production, but praised the glorious spectacle. (November 19-December 30; guthrietheater.org)

The Classic Nutcracker, Ballet Minnesota

The O'Shaughnessy, St. Paul

Jay Gabler reviewed this production in 2008, and wrote, "Ballet Minnesota bills its holiday production as The Classic Nutcracker, and the title doesn't lie—even if 'classic' is used in the sense of a Realtor describing a 'classic split-level.' You get your party scene, you get your cute mice (or, in this production, 'cheese friends'), you get your showdown with the Rat King, you get your divertissements, you get your pas de flippin' deux, and everyone goes home feeling warm and fuzzy." (December 14-18; balletminnesota.org)

Hot Chocolate, Park Square Theatre
Park Square Theatre, St. Paul
This original production by Austene Van and Thomasina Petrus incorporates favorite holiday songs into the story of a young couple juggling seasonal demands. (November 30-December 18; parksquare.org

It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, Saint Paul Hotel
Saint Paul Hotel, St. Paul
This perennial production takes the audience back to 1946, with a live radio drama being staged in the hotel ballroom. "This Wonderful Life," writes Jay, "left me with a warm and fuzzy holiday feeling." (December 13-23; saintpaulhotel.com)

Loyce Houlton's Nutcracker Fantasy, Minnesota Dance Theatre

Cowles Center, Minneapolis

Among locally produced professional Nutcrackers, this is the one to beat: a big show choreographed by Houlton. It's a holiday tradition for hundreds of Minnesota families, and Betsy Gabler understands why. (December 23-31; mndance.org)

Moscow Ballet's Great Russian Nutcracker, Moscow Ballet
Orpheum Theatre, Minneapolis

This popular tour is divided into East and West legs: we're "West," along with "Butte, MN." Last year's tour found Minneapolis all right, and Betsy Gabler was pretty blown away by the amazing spectacle. (December 2-3; hennepintheatretrust.org)

Sister's Christmas Catechism: The Mystery of the Magi's Gold, Entertainment Events
Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, St. Paul
St. Paul's come a long way from when residents talked about parishes rather than neighborhoods, but Catholic humor is still a big seller. (December 13-January 1; ordway.org

Tales from the Charred Underbelly of the Yule Log, Guthrie Theater
Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis
It's a very Kling Khristmas once again, and that's joyous news for the many fans of the well-known local humorist. (December 5; guthrietheater.org

Merry pranksters

Bob’s Holiday Office Party, Actors Theater of Minnesota
Camp Bar, St. Paul
This satire aims to skewer both small-town life and cubicle culture. Some of the darts are bound to hit—and it's at a bar, so every time they drop a dud, you can take a shot. (December 9-30; camp-bar.net)

Camp Comedy Roast of Mr. Scrooge, Actors Theater of Minnesota
Camp Bar, St. Paul
Scrooge sits on the hot seat for this behind-the-scenes take on Dickens's classic story. (December 11-20; actorsmn.org

The Harty Boys Save Christmas, Comedy Suitcase
Bryant-Lake Bowl, Minneapolis
The sell-out holiday hit returns for an encore run. The Harty Boys Save Christmas blends local humor, social satire and physical comedy to create a holiday show for kids and adults alike. Read Jay’s review from last year’s show. (November 25-December 11; bryantlakebowl.com)

Inspecting Carol, Festival Theatre
Festival Theatre, Minneapolis
Everything's going wrong in this production of A Christmas Carol—and that's exactly the point. It's a comedy, get it? (November 26-December 23; facebook.com)

Of Mirth and Mischief, Minnesota Public Radio
Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul
Kevin Kling, performer of the holiday favorite Tales from the Charred Underbelly of the Yule Log, doubles down with a new Christmas show featuring original music written by Steve Kramer and performed by Haley Bonar and James Diers. (December 16-18; fitzgeraldtheater.publicradio.org)

Nutbuster!! The Ballet, Third Rabbit Dance Ensemble
Bryant-Lake Bowl, Minneapolis
Local dance legend John Munger—one of the Daily Planet's Fringe bloggers—returns to the BLB with his harrowing solo interpretation of The Nutcracker. "Nothing else I've seen in town," wrote Jay in 2009, "shreds, burns, and pisses on the smoldering ashes of the envelope like John Munger's Nutbuster!!" (December 14; bryantlakebowl.com)

The Santaland Diaries, Frank Theatre
Women's Club, Minneapolis
For the second consecutive year, Minneapolis sustains two Sedaris adaptations. Last year, Betsy Gabler attended them both and—how Minnesotan—liked them both, just in different ways. (November 25-December 30; franktheatre.org)

Christmas at war

All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914; Cantus, Theatre Latté Da, and Hennepin Theatre Trust
Pantages Theatre, Minneapolis
This musical telling of the moving true story has become a holiday tradition. (December 15-18; hennepintheatretrust.org)

A Civil War Christmas, History Theatre
History Theatre, St. Paul
How do you turn the bloodiest conflict ever to take place on American soil into "a musical celebration"? The Twin Cities are about to find out. See the show for the music and the education, recommends Madeline Salmon—not the sparse plot. (November 19-December 18; historytheatre.com

Shows in elevators

An "Eventually" Christmas: Holidays at the Mill, Mill City Museum

Mill City Museum, Minneapolis

The museum's exhibit-in-an-elevator becomes a theater for this play, written by Joseph Scrimshaw, portraying life at the mill back when business was booming and the holiday party was the event of the year. "While I won't recommend you make a special effort to see the show for its theatrical merits," Jay wrote in 2009, "history buffs will have (so to speak) a blast, and fans of Scrimshaw's brand of brainy but accessible humor will also enjoy taking a trip up the tower." (December 2-11; mnhs.org)

Shows that have absolutely nothing to do with the holidays but that for some strange reason you might want to see anyway

The 7-Shot Symphony, Live Action Set
Loring Theater, Minneapolis
This one-shot revival of The 7-Shot Symphony is a fundraiser for Live Action Set, which won an Ivey Award for overall excellence with this show. Matthew Everett, in his Daily Planet review, highly recommended this epic work of physical theater. (December 5; liveactionset.org)

Charley’s Aunt, Guthrie Theater
Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis
A classic farce about Oxford students. However, the Guthrie's treatment is thuddingly non-farcical, says Sheila Regan. (November 26-January 15; guthrietheater.org)

The Chuch Basement Ladies in A Mighty Fortress is Our Basement, Plymouth Playhouse
Plymouth Playhouse, Plymouth
"The danger with any successful franchise," wrote Jean Gabler in her Daily Planet review of this production, "is knowing when to say when. How many times can we laugh at the Jell-O jokes and the no-nonsense manner of Norwegian Lutherans? Perhaps the answer is that people love the familiar, and the Church Basement Ladies will always be able to deliver." (ongoing; plymouthplayhouse.com)

Cinderella, Old Log Theater
Old Log Theater, Excelsior
For its annual holiday children's show, the Old Log presents the classic fairy tale. (November 15-December 31; oldlog.com

The Dining Room, Theatre in the Round
Theatre in the Round, Minneapolis
The theatrical equivalent of Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire" video, this play looks at history from the perspective of people sitting down to pig out. There are some fine performances here, says Dwight Hobbes—but the script is about as entertaining as drying paint. (November 18-December 18; theatreintheround.com)

Everybody Loves Opal, Old Log Theater
Old Log Theater, Excelsior
A comedy about a lady who lives in a shack by the dump. Oh, that Opal! Gotta love her. (September 16-February 4; oldlog.com

Hairspray, Chanhassen Dinner Theatres
Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, Chanhassen
Jay blew our chance to publish a review of this one—but we've been hearing good things. (August 5-January 28; chanhassendinnertheatres.com)

Home Below Zero, Playwrights' Center
Playwrights' Center, Minneapolis
A semi-staged reading of a Dan Dietz play in which heavy metal helps to bridge a cultural gap between Midwest and Middle East. Sounds a little Hallmarky, but with the talent on board, this is apt to be an enjoyable evening. (December 5; playwrightscenter.org)

How to Cheat, Gremlin Theatre
Gremlin Theatre, St. Paul
Randy Reyes and Candy Simmons take liberties (wink wink, nudge nudge) in this "smart, sexy comedy about morality and the pursuit of happiness." (December 1-12; gremlin-theatre.org)

I Am My Own Wife, Jungle Theater
Jungle Theater, Minneapolis
Expect a tour de force performance from Bradley Greenwald in this one-man show about a remarkable woman in WWII-era Germany, with director Joel Sass at the helm. (November 4-December 18; jungletheater.com)

I Wish You Love, Penumbra Theatre
Penumbra Theatre, St. Paul
A tribute to Nat "King" Cole, back onstage at the Penumbra by popular demand. Dennis Spears "does a masterful job of recreating Nat 'King' Cole's musical style," writes Bev Wolfe in her Daily Planet review. (November 18-December 18; penumbratheatre.org

Les Misérables [touring production]
Orpheum Theatre, Minneapolis
If the question of whether or not to give Aunt Betsy that box of cards that you've just used one from isn't enough of a moral dilemma for you this holiday season, head to Hennepin to hang out for 3,982 hours with Jean Valjean. METRO calls it the one show to see this year, and Jay says "that's true for those theatergoers whose favorite thing about shows is sheer Broadwayness." (December 6-18; hennepintheatretrust.org)

Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella, Ordway Center for the Performing Arts
Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, St. Paul
The Ordway's earned a sterling reputation for their lavish December musicals, and while this show is beautiful, says Sarah Heuer, Cinderella is no role model. (December 13-January 1; ordway.org)

The Soul of Gershwin, Park Square Theatre
Park Square Theatre, St. Paul
A historical song cycle telling the story of the great American composer and his klezmer roots. (December 8-January 1; parksquare.org

The Wizard of Oz, Children’s Theatre Company
Children’s Theatre Company, Minneapolis
The Children's Theatre revives its adaptation of the classic story, based on the 1939 MGM film—very closely based, notes John Olive—because L. Frank Baum was just a little too odd. (November 8-January 8; childrenstheatre.org)


Many of these productions can be seen using discount vouchers from the Daily Planet's Theater All Year program—six vouchers for just $99.

(The Theater All Year program is run independently of the Daily Planet's editorial coverage, and participation in the program does not affect the likelihood or content of any Daily Planet previews or reviews.)


Coverage of issues and events that affect Central Corridor neighborhoods and communities is funded in part by a grant from Central Corridor Collaborative.

Our primary commenting system uses Facebook logins. If you wish to comment without having a Facebook account, please create an account on this site and log in first. If you are already a registered user, just scroll up to the log in box in the right hand column and log in.

Jay Gabler's picture
Jay Gabler

Jay Gabler (@JayGabler) is a digital producer at The Current and Classical MPR.

Morgan Halaska's picture
Morgan Halaska

Morgan Halaska (@mergbird) doesn't normally like to talk about herself (especially in third person).