The season of good will? Already? What happened to the last year? Ah, the days may spin faster, but our On the Town guide to holiday stage entertainment is as reliable as Christmas pudding.
In some ways, the landscape of holiday entertainment is a little thinner than in past years. The Rockettes are taking the year off. The Biograph Theatre is, unusually, dark. Even "The Book of Mormon" has closed up shop. Nonetheless, we've dusted off our list of holiday faves. One rule: These have to be genuinely holiday-themed shows. And, no, "Hellcab," as much as we love you, a Christmas Eve setting does not count.
You've got the idea. We've got the shows.
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- Holiday Guide 2013: Counting down 10 shows to Christmas
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'A Christmas Carol'
Your humble correspondent, veteran of more self-exploratory nights with Scrooge than he cares to remember, took a year off last season, and thus is refreshed and ready for some more quality time with the great Larry Yando, now facing his own mortality (aren't we all?) for the sixth consecutive time, but under the first-time direction of Henry Wishcamper. What's new this year? "New?" they cry at the Goodman. "Don't you know it's a tradition?" Well, we know it's been around forever, but it's good to hear that there is new "stage magic" and "special effects." Tiny Tim, though, is back. The kid didn't outgrow the role. Through Dec. 28 at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St.; $35-$98 at 312-443-3800 and goodmantheatre.org
Long one of our favorites for both the emotional power of the story and the warmth of the hipster-family atmosphere at the Chopin Theatre in Wicker Park. No, this is not the ballet, but a retelling of the beloved yarn from a contemporary point of view. Unpretentious, heartfelt and evergreen, this "Nutcracker" returns with most of the same cast as last year. It's a very welcoming atmosphere, as enjoyable for 20-somethings as for folk bonding with their kids. And Clara gets to teach her parents about the true meaning of Christmas. That's not a message you can learn at the mall. Through Dec. 29 by House Theatre of Chicago at the Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division St.; $25-$45 at 773-769-3832 and thehousetheatre.com
'We Three Lizas'
This is a celebration (book by Scott Bradley, music by Alan Schmuckler) of "Liza With a Z," once the queen of the Christmas special and still reigning in many a fevered heart. It was a lot of fun last year, though it barely approached coherence. Well, I'm told the show, pitched at the kind of crowd that likes to suck down a martini or three at intermission, has been re-imagined and improved. Virtually the entire book is new, and so are most of the songs. I'm ready for another round. Previews begin Wednesday; runs Dec. 6 to Jan. 5 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave.; $20-$45 at aboutfacetheatre.com
'The Christmas Schooner'
So did you know Cecily Strong, now a star of "Saturday Night Live," once was part of the Bailiwick Repertory cast of "Christmas Schooner"? These days, of course, this justly beloved show by John Reeger and the late, great Julie Shannon is a holiday tradition at the Mercury Theater, where L. Walter Stearns directs. Most of the cast from last year is back for another sail on the Molly. Previews begin Wednesday; runs Dec. 4-29 at Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport Ave.; $20-$55 at 773-325-1700 and mercurytheaterchicago.com
'It's a Wonderful Life'
Chicago is the home of two radio-style tellings of the great Frank Capra movie, and both the American Theater Company version and the American Blues Theater version have thrived. They're very similar, and I usually rotate attendance. I'd say the ATC version is a tad darker and more intensely acted (and arguably truer to the movie), whereas the ABT version is warmer and brimming with seasonal good cheer. But if you like your Christmas retro and earnest, you'll be fine at either one.
• Friday through Dec. 29 by American Theater Company, 1909 W. Byron St.; $25-$40 at atcweb.org.
• Also Friday through Dec. 29 by American Blues Theater at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave.; $19-$49 at americanbluestheater.com
As the main seasonal attraction from Broadway in Chicago, this new touring show is a musical adaptation of the hit Will Ferrell movie wherein the title character goes looking for his daddy in New York City. "Elf" got mixed reviews on Broadway in 2010, but the tour has an Equity cast, and we're ready to give it a chance, especially since the book is by Bob Martin and Tom Meehan, both masters of the satiric art. If you're looking for a big, downtown experience with broad appeal, this is probably your best bet. Tuesday to Dec. 15 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St.; $18-$90 at 800-775-2000 and broadwayinchicago.com
'A Very Merry Madrigal'
Despite its bleak name, the No Exit Cafe actually feels warm and toasty at Christmas time, a very urban respite from the frozen "L" tracks outside its door. And they happily ply you with food and drink, served by mostly young talent. This newly conceived and intimate show features yuletide folk music, ranging from the 15th century to the 21st, and wassail and figgy pudding are included. You'll also hear the words of the likes of Shakespeare and Dante. Dante? Still, sounds classy. In previews; runs Saturday through Dec. 22 by Theo Ubique at The No Exit Cafe, 6970 N. Glenwood Ave.; $20-$40 at 800-595-4849 and theoubique.org
Prefer fun and prizes to classy? Consider "Christmas Bingo," the latest attraction from Vicki Quade, the resident sister of lapsed Catholic-themed entertainment. This all-new show includes the chance to play actual games of chance, as hosted by a former nun turned fundraiser (or an actress playing one). Quade produced "Late Nite Catechism," and if you're familiar with that, you'll get the idea. Expect seasonal comedy laced with biblical truths and random numbers in the hands of a firm-but-loving nun. Nov. 29 to Jan. 5 at the Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted St.; $30 at 312-988-9000 or christmasbingo.info
'A Q Brothers' Christmas Carol'
The Brothers Q have rapped their way through Shakespeare for fun and profit, but the Bard rarely kills over the holidays. The golden goose at this time of year requires that rap-master miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, to be doing the spinning. Ergo, "A Q Brothers' Christmas Carol," featuring a Jamaican Marley and, of course, Lil' Tim. Nov. 30 to Dec. 22 Upstairs at Chicago Shakespeare on Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand Ave.; $20-$35 at 312-595-5600 and chicagoshakes.com
'Mary Wilson Holiday Spectacular'
Although it starts very close to Christmas, this is the only show this year that seems likely to add a note of cool to Yule. In this holiday show, which has not been seen in Chicago before, the former Supreme teams with the Four Tops to present a Motown Christmas. Sounds like it will be great for a night out to see the lights of the town. Dec. 23 to Jan. 5 at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph St. at Millennium Park; ticketmaster.com