The holidays are upon us, and plenty of local theatrical diversions will help Nashvillians celebrate the season. If you can't find some goodwill in any of the following offerings, then you must be Ebenezer Scrooge.
It's still Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, but Nashville Ballet has proudly trumpeted its Music City-specific version since it was first presented in 2008. Hence, Nashville's Nutcracker will be performed Dec. 9-18 at TPAC's Jackson Hall, featuring new staging elements — most notably, a different approach to Drosselmeyer's magic tricks, courtesy of nationally recognized illusionist Drew Thomas. Otherwise the production continues as a celebration of Nashville's rich history and personality, complete with characters inspired by famous residents such as Andrew Jackson, Vanderbilt University Chancellor James Kirkland and actress Lucille La Verne, a Nashville native who provided the voice of the witch in Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The fantastic score remains as lively and magical as ever, and the performance includes 150 young dancers from the School of Nashville Ballet and the community at large, spanning 11 Middle Tennessee counties and Kentucky. For tickets, call 782-4040.
There's more holiday nostalgia at TPAC from Tennessee Repertory Theatre, which has two special productions debuting this week. Opening Dec. 8 for a run through Dec. 22 is A Christmas Story, which returns for its third straight year. It's veteran actor Samuel Whited once again as Ralphie, the Midwestern youngster of Red Ryder air-rifle fame, supported by other top local players, including David Compton, Jamie Farmer, Andrew Kanies, Eric D. Pasto-Crosby, Peter Vann and David Wilkerson. Lauren Shouse directs. Playing Dec. 11, 12 and 18 is David Alford's Christmas Down Home, in which the noted actor hosts an evening of festive song and story, including his popular rendition of Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory," with accompaniment by Paul Carrol Binkley. Tickets are available at 782-4040 or tennesseerep.org.
Groundworks Theatre's Robert A. O'Connell is up to his old tricks this holiday season, writing a new original script designed to tickle the funny bone but also celebrate Christmas with warmth. The Very Different Christmas Dinner, presented Dec. 9-18 at Darkhorse Theater, finds O'Connell channeling the spirit of '60s television's Dick Van Dyke Show, as Laura Dish (Petrie? Get it?) wishes for a refreshing change in her holiday feast, then finds herself visited by the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Amelia Earhart, Oscar Wilde, Marilyn Monroe, Janis Joplin and Jesus himself. Myra and Jonathan Stephens star. For reservations, call 262-5485 or visit groundworkstheatre.com.
Studio Tenn scored a big hit last year with its fresh mounting of A Christmas Carol at Lipscomb University's Shamblin Theater. The show, again under the direction of the estimable Matt Logan, has now moved to the Franklin Theatre, with Chip Arnold re-creating his richly moving characterization of Ebenezer Scrooge. There are some very intriguing new faces among this cast, including Brian Russell, Ciaran McCarthy, Brent Maddox and Travis Brazil, plus three seriously impressive actresses, Kim Bretton, Nan Gurley and Emily Landham. Performances are Dec. 8-18 and coincide with Franklin's annual "Dickens of a Christmas" festival. Due to early demand, extra shows have been added. Tickets are available at 538-2075 or franklintheatre.com/studio-tenn. For general information, visit StudioTenn.com.
Lamplighter's Theatre Company in Smyrna will offer its version of Dickens' Christmas Carol Dec. 9-18. Director Ronnie Meek returns the story to its traditional setting in mid-1800s England, and in so doing he creates a rarefied ambience with live accompaniment by theremin — an eerie musical instrument often associated with spooky movies and sci-fi. Also contributing to the soundscape is violinist Melodie Williamson. Veteran film and TV actor Sam Dalton has been tapped to portray the crotchety Scrooge. Lamplighter's Theatre is located on the campus of Smyrna Assembly at 14119 Old Nashville Highway. For tickets, visit ticketsnashville.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
With its stages already filled with dinner theater fare — including the seasonal spoof A Country Christmas, Carol — Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre enters the daytime holiday sweepstakes with the kids in mind, presenting Santa's Got a Brand New Bag, Dec. 6-23. Vanessa Wynn's script finds Santa dealing with modern-day communications tools, including the Internet, leading to a panicky situation best resolved by resourceful elves. Familiar holiday songs are a part of the action, which is under the direction of Martha Wilkinson and co-stars Bryce Conner, Jennifer Richmond and Warren Gore. Performances are at 11 a.m. Admission includes a beverage (coffee, tea or soft drink), and guests are welcome to bring their own brunch or snack. Santa will be in the lobby after the show for pictures. For reservations, call 646-9977.
No miracle on Donelson Pike
Miracle on 34th Street is among the cream of the crop of holiday films, duking it out with It's a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story atop most people's Best Christmas Movie lists. The 1947 classic continues to endure, distinguished by genuine warmth and worthy satire, including vintage character actor William Frawley's portrayal of the crusty political adviser to the well-meaning judge stuck with assessing Kris Kringle's sanity.
In 1963, no less a talent than Meredith Willson (The Music Man) decided to musicalize Miracle: He adapted George Seaton's screenplay (based on the Valentine Davies story), wrote a bunch of songs and called it Here's Love.
But despite his formidable résumé, Willson churned out an inexplicably lame reworking of one of Hollywood's truly wonderful scripts. His score is a stinker too: Willson wrote the one recognizable tune, "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," in 1951 — it's included in Here's Love with an updated melody and lyric under the title "Pinecones and Holly Berries." The other songs are either tritely conceived or flat-out forced, and rarely expand on story or character. The show ran on Broadway about nine months, then all but disappeared from public view. Later, as a marketing idea, it was retitled Miracle on 34th Street the Musical.
Alas, we all know what happens when you try to put lipstick on a pig. In the new revival at Larry Keeton Theatre, director Kate Adams-Johnson struggles to elicit consistent performances from her cast, especially when a lot of the players are mediocre and/or inexperienced.
Act 1 is a poorly paced snore fest, with pauses in dialogue you could drive a train through. Act 2 perks up a bit (and is mercifully briefer). It features the famous climactic courtroom scene, which proves one thing for sure: The only time Willson's script has any wit is when it stays faithful to the excellent source material. (Too bad the author didn't do more of that, because when he deviates from the original, the results are never good.)
The gifted Ginger Newman is the music director, but the spare, dully competent accompaniment — keyboards, bass and drums — lacks the expected energy. Plus the choral singing sounds imprecise and uncommitted.
For what it's worth, the show opened just last weekend, and it runs through Dec. 18, so there's plenty of room for improvement in all quarters. Besides, the community-centric Keeton spirit should help spur the tyros on to greater heights.
Willson's disappointing craftsmanship, however, will remain unchanged.
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