Stage Preview: Seasonally Effective

In tough times, local theaters need your money. So they’re rewrapping the gifts you loved last year.

In the mood for some holiday entertainment? Let's see: Nutcracker, Messiah, Black Nativity, A Christmas Carol...hmm, saw all those last year. And the 20 or 30 years before that. But wait: Surely smaller theater companies—the ones that are fringier, edgier, risk-takier—have all kinds of novel stuff going on.Well, not really.True, the holidays are a time for traditions: family and old friends, celebration rituals, comfort food, classic movies and TV specials. But on local stages, this recession year has turned up an unprecedented parade of cash cows; nearly every Christmas-themed show is either a revival of a known seller or a stage version of a known property.And it's not just the dramas. Of course It's a Wonderful Life is going to pop up somewhere (thanks, Taproot), but this year, devotion to the tried-and-true is also reflected by a blizzard of campy comedies that once promoted themselves as antidotes to predictable, treacly Christmas sentiment. Practically every sector of our economy is hoping holiday spending will save it, and arts groups—even "alternative" ones—are no different anymore.We have spinoffs: ArtsWest's Plaid Tidings, a sequel to Forever Plaid, a revue spoofing '50s MOR vocal pop, and ACT's Sister's Christmas Catechism, for those who loved their Catholic-school sendup, Late Nite Catechism, during its years-long run there. Even Balagan's Death, Sex—a mordant look at theater's two favorite topics, which was a hit for them last Valentine's Day—is being rejiggered for the season as Death, Sex 2: The Holiday Show.We have adaptations: 5th Avenue's redoing MGM's White Christmas; Seattle Public Theater's trotting out David Sedaris' comic memoir of life as a Macy's elf, The Santaland Diaries; and Stone Soup's serving up Dylan Thomas' nostalgic A Child's Christmas in Wales.And we have spoofs: Improv troupes are offering Rudolph: The Next Verse, Wing-It Productions' look at the hero's later life; Citizen Scrooge, Unexpected Productions' Dickens/Welles mashup; and Nightmare on 34th Street, Blood Squad's Santa-slasher show. Lily Verlaine and Jasper McCann make Tchaikovsky swing, strut, and strip in The Burlesque Nutcracker. John Longenbaugh's Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol was to receive its premiere, but the damage done to Taproot Theater by the Greenwood fires has forced them to postpone, offering only two readings. (Complete info on all these shows and more can be found in the performance calendar in our print edition and here at seattleweekly.com.)Of course, sticking with proven properties is by no means a bad thing. And there are three fringe franchises that we're especially happy to see back.In The Dina Martina Christmas Show, drag shows and kitschy lounge acts are cross-bred and sent spiraling into surreal space. What's even more amazing than Dina's costumes and song choices (Elvis' "In the Ghetto"?) is the fact that after 20 years she can keep topping herself, every show more WTF than her last. And as for her work ethic, calling Dina a "trouper" doesn't even begin to cover it: In just over a month, she's doing 26 shows—including, new this year, Sunday matinees—performing at Re-bar daily from Dec. 10 through 31 with only two days off. And every single one of those shows will sell out, so commit to a date and buy your tix now.Like the special sugar cookies Aunt Bev makes every year, comedy team Peggy Platt and Lisa Koch gift us with recurring characters in the ninth chapter of their sketch revue, Ham for the Holidays, at Theater Off Jackson, celebrating the joys of trash, white and otherwise. Mother/daughter country stars the Spudds are back, and the Sequim Gay Men's Chorus, four voices strong.In the best premise of any holiday show, Open Circle takes us back to Judy Garland's short-lived early-'60s TV variety show and the legendary Christmas episode that was nearly derailed thanks to her drinking. In The Judy Garland Christmas Special, showing at Open Circle's Belltown venue, they ask: What if she had gone on soused, and dragged her guests—Jack Jones and her three kids, Liza, Lorna, and...what's-his-name—down with her? This time, Troy Mink takes over for Andrew Tasakos, Open Circle's sozzled, blowzy, brilliant Judy from past years.For true novelty, you have to go to the suburbs. At Redmond's SecondStory Repertory, A Christmas Cabaret updates the Nativity to '50s Vegas. This time Mary and Joey, guided by a showgirl named Angel, do find room at an inn—the Desert Sands Inn. Burien Little Theater invites us to spend Christmas With the Crawfords, as Mommie Dearest herself hosts a bash for her Hollywood pals.The one straight play that actually was originally written as a holiday entertainment—and was a play from the start, rather than a reworking of a favorite in another medium—is the Bard's Twelfth Night. Seattle Shakespeare Company is playing up the Christmas connection, adding carols and mistletoe to this mistaken-identity rom-com. Their takes on classics are effervescent and affectionate, which might be just the palate-cleanser you need after stuffing yourself with all those sweets.gborchert@seattleweekly.com

 
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