Dashing Through the Snow

Our reviewers give you the holiday stage rundown.

Yeah, we're tired of Christmas already, too, but tradition usually demands taking in at least one yuletide show per season. We're through covering the standards, though if you haven't yet partaken they all hold some appeal: Pacific Northwest Ballet's Nutcracker (McCaw Hall; ends Tues., Dec. 28), which, frankly, can get a little wearying but features Maurice Sendak's truly delectable design; A Christmas Carol at ACT Theatre (ends Sun., Dec. 26), by-the-numbers by now, yet brisk, professional, and reliably affecting nonetheless; and the Langston Hughes gospel annual Black Nativity (Intiman Theatre; ends Sun., Dec. 26), a must for its inspired song and sermon, a miss for its often stilted direction, acting, and choreography. We headed out instead this year to take in . . . well, almost everything else. Don't say we never gave you nuthin'.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Bathhouse Theater; ends Fri., Dec. 24

Although the sappiness required for most holiday productions usually causes me to avoid theater like the plague this time of year, Seattle Public Theater's show manages to balance the Christmas spirit with enough energetic talent that you'll actually want to take younger children or grandparents to it. The story, about the rowdy Herdman kids taking over their town's yearly Christmas pageant after hearing about the church's vast snack selection, comes to life through the six young actors who convincingly play the raucous bunch—brawling, screaming lines, and pulling baby Jesus' arm off. Peggy Gannon plays frazzled pageant director Grace Bradley with humor, and the magic of this production continues to impress all the way to the final carol. HEATHER LOGUE

The Dina Martina Christmas Show

Re-bar; ends Fri., Dec. 31

Grady West is starting to show a smidge too much irony as his exquisitely demented chanteuse alter ego—she's sometimes making references you wouldn't think she'd understand—though it's impossible to resist a holiday revue that opens with "Like a Prayer." If anything, in fact, Ms. Martina's song selection is more deliriously absurd than ever; you won't soon forget her daffy commingling of a Beatles classic with its distant Christmas cousin. And West is stingingly funny whenever he sets Dina to reaching, pop-star style, for a moment of dramatic self-importance. It'd be nice if her fleet show contained at least an encore carol or two, but she'll satisfy any adults with a craving for wrecking the halls this season—or, as she puts it, "If you've got a holiday itch, I've got a holiday finger." STEVE WIECKING

A(n Improvised) Christmas Carol

Market Theater; ends Sun., Dec. 26

Seven performers plus narrator plus musical director plus audience plus Dickens equals a holiday anti-classic. Or at least it seemed that way when I caught it: The crowd had chosen for the story to end nontraditionally, which meant that the female Scrooge paid a passerby to eat a delicious plate of macaroni and cheese in front of the female Cratchit and her four kids as they sat in a burning house on Christmas Day. The specifics, of course, vary from show to show; the framework is loose enough to accommodate the two dozen or so suggestions narrator and co-director Brian Kameoka gets from the audience. Not quite a family outing, unless your brats are especially cynical, but a nice way to get your eggnog dosed. MICHAELANGELO MATOS

Olympic Ballet Theatre Nutcracker

Various venues; ends Sun., Dec. 19

The Nutcracker is a ballet about a child's world, and OBT's production is true to that realm. It doesn't have the lavish special effects of Pacific Northwest Ballet's version, but makes its best impression on a more human scale, from the single lamppost onstage at the show's opening to the Act II chorus of tiny "Buffoons" that tumble out from under Mother Ginger's skirts. The choreography takes advantage of children's natural tendency toward hubbub, and a number of guest artists are salted throughout the production, including Viktoria Titova's appearance as the Sugar Plum Fairy. SANDRA KURTZ

Peter Pan

5th Avenue; ends Sun., Dec. 19

Sure, this umpteenth touring musical version of the J.M. Barrie tale is a little musty if you really want to poke at it. Barrie's sexual politics are as weird as ever, and the stuff with Tiger Lily and the Indians is irretrievably dated no matter how you approach it (a joyously athletic drumming number has the misfortune of being set to a song called "Ugg-a-Wugg"). But the pirates are still fun—especially, of course, Howard McGillin's tongue-in-cheek Captain Hook—and, c'mon, like your kid isn't going to get a kick out of people flying about on wires? It'd be easy to make a crack about how long Cathy Rigby has been doing this gig, but you know what, she's full of life: believably boyish, acrobatic, and energetically tackling a role she could easily do in her sleep. If we have to put up with the unsettling woman-as-boy shtick, she's the way to go. STEVE WIECKING

A Radioland Christmas

Taproot Theatre; ends Thurs., Dec. 30

Director Karen Lund taps the Rockwellian aura of old-time radio in a tenderly reminiscent rendering of fictional KSEA-Seattle, as cast and crew prepare to broadcast the annual live Christmas special in 1943. Disaster impends as small-time egos collide, the clock is ticking, and—in a moment rivaling Linus' salvaging of A Charlie Brown Christmas—a child appears to lead them. Fellow feeling ensues, and the season is given its proper spiritual grounding. Written by Seattle playwright Lauri Evans Deason, this is family entertainment at its best: light but earnest, message-bound but untreacly. Watch for Rhiannon Kruse, who nearly steals the show as the ditzy Sophie, a "Jingle Bell" with a heart of gold. RICHARD MORIN

Red Ranger Came Calling

Center House Theatre; ends Sun., Dec. 26

Director Myra Platt and musical director Edd Key have given their tuneful adaptation of Berkeley (Bloom County) Breathed's endearingly quirky children's tale a spiffy spit shine after last year's spotty debut. Things look a lot better now, and the story of a surly 9-year-old who finds Santa on Vashon Island in 1939 sings with some of the original's charm. Stephen Hando's impish petulance in the lead still holds the show's center, but this time he's surrounded by a deft vocal ensemble that gives the proceedings a fuller, cheerier sound. Not everything has been fixed: Jane Jones' elementary choreography is wanting, and while most of the songs suggest Breathed's chipper irreverence, a few of them seem to stop the story more than enrich it. But the 90-minute production at last shows signs of enduring appeal. STEVE WIECKING

The Santaland Diaries

Bathhouse Theater; ends Fri., Dec. 24

He may be nasal, but one thing David Sedaris isn't is shrill. Unfortunately, the shrillness that runs through Seattle Public Theater's production, adapted by Sedaris from his essay, browbeats the subtlety out of the humorist's bone-dry comic jibes at American tackiness. The one-man show finds David (Shawn Law) applying for a job as an elf in Macy's "Santaland" display, then, to his horror, actually getting the gig. There's no unfunny way to be told you're on break when your elf name is Crumpet, but the social commentary in the text feels too on-the-nose coming out of Law's manic mouth. He's a talented physical comedian (a short bit where he demonstrates the duties of an "Island Elf" is hilarious), but guilty of the very crime of which David accuses the other elves—ending every sentence with an exclamation point. NEAL SCHINDLER

Smorgaspork: The Best of Ham for the Holidays

Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center; ends Sun., Dec. 26

Celebrating 15 years together, Lisa Koch and Peggy Platt offer up a revue drawing from their various song-and-skit collaborations in The Holiday Survival Game Show, as comedy duo Dos Fallopia, and their five previous Ham shows. With musical director D.J. Gommels and the versatile Andrew Tasakos, they scatter sex jokes and queer camp like confetti. Their satiric targets are so broad they barely have to work to hit them—and this effortlessness is precisely the charm of the show. The exhilarating closing number, which imagines the Sequim Gay Men's Chorus, is a long-overdue—and deliciously cruel—skewering of the cheesy medleys, from-the-waist-up choreography, and self-absorbed sentiment that make men's chorus performances so unendurable. GAVIN BORCHERT

 
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