December is here, and hence the holiday season is in full force. The snow has started falling, the lights have started shining and the shopping has started in earnest. Hopefully, you’re out there shopping local whenever you can – a thriving community depends on consumers buying from their neighbors.
But shopping local doesn’t end with retail. You should shop local when it comes to your Yuletide entertainment as well. And here’s the thing – you can do that, because there is an embarrassment of riches out there for locally-offered holiday performance.
Sure, you could sit at home and watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” for the umpteenth time or run through your Christmas Spotify playlist. But where’s the fun in that?
Especially when you take into account that our region is absolutely jammed with possibilities. There are stage shows and concerts galore. There is comedy and drama and so much music. There are holiday classics and brand-new creations. All of it right here in your backyard.
Look, if you want to stay home and drink hot toddies in front of a roaring fireplace, that’s perfectly OK. No judgment – sounds like you’ve figured out what it is you want from the holiday season and life in general. But if you’re looking to be entertained, well … you’re in luck.
In recent years, it seems as though every December has had a wealth of options. But this year more than ever, it feels like there really is something for everyone out there.
Please note that this isn’t even close to everything out there. I’ve just chosen a handful of options that might pique your interest. Keep your eyes open and your ears to the ground, because there is just so much out there, with so many people celebrating with their own joyful noises.
If you’re going to write a preview of holiday performances, you have to begin with the granddaddy of them all. “The Nutcracker” is a generational celebration, a show that has been a signifier of the season for decades. The beloved ballet has been a part of the holiday traditions of hundreds of families in this region – and those traditions continue today.
Robinson Ballet began their performances in mid-November; they have already kicked off the season with visits to Machias, Farmington and Ellsworth. On Dec. 15, they’ll be heading to the Criterion Theatre in Bar Harbor for a performance.
But the big one has always been their visit to the Collins Center for the Arts in Orono (more on them later). With three shows in two days – 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Dec. 21, 3 p.m. on Dec. 22 – the Robinson Ballet closes out their “Nutcracker” season, joined by their longtime collaborators the Bangor Symphony Orchestra. These performances, featuring the full musical orchestration and plenty of special guests, have long been a performative highlight of the holiday season.
But Robinson Ballet isn’t the only “Nutcracker” crew hard at work. Bangor Ballet will bring their version of the show – titled “Nutcracker in a Nutshell” to the Gracie Theater (more on them later as well). With performances at 7 p.m. on Dec. 8 and 2 p.m. Dec. 9, it’s another opportunity to see this delightful holiday favorite play out on stage before your eyes.
Honestly, everyone should see “The Nutcracker” at least once. I was a latecomer and even as an adult, I was captivated by the wonder of it all. Some incredibly talented dancers will be working hard to bring this story to life in the coming weeks – embrace the opportunity to see it for yourself.
Penobscot Theatre Company
Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical (Dec. 5-29)
This musical, based on the Roald Dahl book of the same name and featuring a book by Dennis Kelly and music and lyrics from Tim Minchin, promises big fun this holiday season.
Matilda is a little girl who loves to read. She is bright and inquisitive … and gifted with powers that are a bit beyond what even her cleverness can fully understand. Finally placed in school by her unsavory parents, she lands between two very different authority figures, teachers who each have very specific ideas regarding what it means to educate a child. Matilda navigates it all with kindness and curiosity. And when magic manifests itself, hijinks will most certainly ensue.
Directed and choreographed by the team of Jeff Payton and Matt Shaffer, PTC’s production of “Matilda” marks the Maine professional premiere of the show. Tickets are available at the Penobscot Theatre website at www.penobscottheatre.org or by calling the box office at 942-3333.
(Please note: This run also marks the first “relaxed performance” Penobscot Theatre Company has offered. The December 26th 1 p.m. matinee is open to all, but will be especially designed for audience members who may be sensitive to light and sound, have disabilities which prevent sitting or being silent for long periods of time and families with very young children. At this performance, audiences can expect that the house lights will remain on, the doors to the theatre will remain open so that patrons can move freely about the theatre, and those audience members who feel the need to vocalize can do so at will. The theatre will offer “chill out” spaces in the lobby where people can go if they need a break from the action and sound onstage.)
A Kick in Your Dickens (Dec. 12-29)
There are all sorts of familiar holiday stories out there, characters and songs and ideas that are shared by many people. But while you might hear snippets of those stories and get glimpses of those characters in this show, it’ll be anything but familiar – because every night, it will be the first (and last) time that show ever takes place.
“A Kick in Your Dickens” is a holiday-themed improv comedy extravaganza courtesy of ImprovAcadia, the renowned improv theater. IA co-owners Jennifer Shepard and Larrance Fingerhut will take to the stage at PTC’s 51 Main space to offer up audiences some seasonal cheer like nothing they’ve ever experienced before. Jen and Larrance and their guest(s) will create one-of-a-kind holiday extravaganzas using nothing but audience suggestions and their vast knowledge of Yuletide lore.
It should be noted that 51 Main is a limited-seating space, so be sure to get your tickets early if you want to be sure to get in. Tickets are available at the Penobscot Theatre website at www.penobscottheatre.org or by calling the box office at 942-3333.
Ten Bucks Theatre
A Christmas Carol (Dec. 5-15)
Last year, Ten Bucks brought this Dickens classic back to the area stage for the first time in years with a staged reading at the Bangor Arts Exchange (also more on them later). This time around, they’ve taken advantage of their new space at the Bangor Mall to mount a full production.
Directed by Aimee Gerow and starring Ken Stack as he reprises his iconic turn as Ebenezer Scrooge, this classic tale follows the miserly Scrooge as he is confronted with his past and present sins by the spirits of the Christmas season, as well as the future consequences of the life he has chosen to lead. The adaptation will likely ring familiar to longtime patrons of the arts; it’s the one penned by former Penobscot Theatre artistic director Mark Torres.
On a personal note, I have great fondness for this show in general and this version in particular – it was the show that introduced me to the area’s theatre scene over two decades ago. I love “A Christmas Carol” in all of its forms. So don’t be humbug – go see “A Christmas Carol.”
(For tickets or more information, visit the Ten Bucks Theatre website at www.tenbuckstheatre.org.)
Bangor Arts Exchange
Her Majesty’s Cabaret: Holiday Spectacular! – Dec. 13
So these jerks are back.
All kidding aside, the sketch comedy collective known as Her Majesty’s Cabaret has been on a performance hiatus, but they are back and in full flower with their brand-new holiday spectacular.
The quartet of Zach Robbins, Brad LaBree, Kat Johnson and Emily Burnham are offering up their own special brand of seasonal shenanigans, with sketches and videos galore. It’ll be big laughs all around from the BAE ballroom stage.
But they won’t be alone.
The HMC crew will be joined by a number of guest performers, groups bringing their own artistic flair to the proceedings. There will be a performance by members of Robinson Ballet. Local choir Divisi (more on them in a moment) will perform a set, as will rock duo When Particles Collide. Improv troupe The Focus Group will also perform.
(Editor’s note: In the interest of full disclosure, I will be performing at this show with The Focus Group.)
This is NOT your parents’ holiday cabaret. But if you don’t mind getting a little crassness in your Christmas, you’ll have some fun here.
Heather Pierson Jazz Trio Presents A Charlie Brown Christmas – Dec. 14
This group – based in New Hampshire – consists of pianist/vocalist Heather Pierson, bassist Shawn Nadeau and drummer Craig Bryan. They make their return to the BAE stage, bringing their annual holiday tour to town.
The trio travels all over the Northeast with this show, a performance of the score from the 1965 animated classic “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” It’s a chance to stroll down memory lane with the sweet and soothing nostalgia of the late Vince Guaraldi’s compositions (including the iconic “Linus and Lucy”).
This is a chance to see seasoned performers bringing a beloved memory to life.
Divisi – Dec. 21
This Bangor-based contemporary choir – led by Molly Webster – will be taking to the BAE stage the Saturday before Christmas. This talented group is devoted to putting their own spin on choral music, both classic and modern alike.
(For tickets or more information about these or other Bangor Arts Exchange shows, visit their website at www.bangorartsexchange.org.)
Còig: A Celtic Christmas (Dec. 13)
Husson University’s Gracie Theatre is playing host to this holiday show, bringing the Celtic beauty of Còig to a Bangor stage.
Còig is one of Atlantic Canada’s most exciting Celtic traditional groups made up of four accomplished multi-instrumentalists, Chrissy Crowley, Rachel Davis, Darren McMullen and Jason Roach. With the fiery Celtic high-energy style as its musical core, Còig easily shifts between century-old tunes of past generations to original and upbeat compositions, featuring the band’s range of over a dozen instruments (vocals, fiddles, piano, guitars, banjo, mandolin, viola, bouzouki, whistles, and more).
For many people, Celtic music has become a key component in their holiday celebrations. The joyful nature of the music is such that it can’t help but make one’s Yuletide bright.
(For tickets or more information, visit the Gracie’s website at www.gracietheater.com.)
Collins Center for the Arts
A Christmas Carol (Dec. 12)
This celebrated Charles Jones adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” from Nebraska Theatre Caravan is rich with thrilling ensemble music, alive with color and movement and is created to tell this great and enduring tale in a manner that people of all ages will enjoy. Woven throughout this classic tale are beautiful new arrangements and moving renditions of classic holiday tunes. Featuring a cast of 23 performers, live musicians and Broadway-style scenery and costumes.
In this adaptation for the stage, one actor plays Ebenezer Scrooge. Each of the 24-member ensemble supports both the story and the music with exceptional ensemble singing and dancing, while each taking on a significant character as the story unfolds.
A Swingles Christmas (Dec. 17)
The Swingles is a group that has been around for decades, an a cappella musical crew whose membership is everchanging and evolving as the years go by. The group that started the whole thing back in the 1960s might be long gone, but there are seven extremely talented young vocalists here who have inherited the mantle and wear it with distinction.
This group has won five Grammy Awards over the span of its existence. This particular show turns their incredible musical abilities onto songs celebrating the season. The Swingles exist to push the boundaries of vocal music, so you can rest assured that you will never have heard Christmas carols quite like these before.
(For tickets or more information about these shows, visit the Collins Center’s website at www.collinscenterforthearts.com.)
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how you choose to be entertained in the coming weeks. Go out, stay in … do what makes you and your loved ones happy. However, if you find yourself dealing with someone complaining that “there’s nothing to do” this holiday season, feel free to point them to this piece.
Because that’s the real joy of it, isn’t it? We have this rich and vibrant artistic and cultural community right in front of us, offering us a multitude of ways to watch the season be celebrated. Embrace it – we’re tremendously lucky to have what we do.
So get out there and see something. Have some holly jolly fun for me.