Holiday Guide 2012: Chris Jones' Top 10 shows for the season

Chicago has a plethora of holiday shows each and every year — and I’ll be reviewing enough of them over the next couple of weeks to put Rudolph in rehab. But based on many years of seasonal theater-going, here are 10 of our potential favorites for 2012. We’re restricting our choices to specifically seasonal fare — so no “Book of Mormon” or “War Horse.” And certainly no “50 Shades! The Musical.” It’s Christmas time.

"Annie": "Annie" makes the cut because it has a Christmas tree, presents and, well, orphans. Although I was scarred by the recent Broadway revival, I'm looking forward to director Rachel Rockwell's huge, all-new production for the Paramount Theatre, partly because it will be great to see that historic venue filled with suburban families but mostly because of Rockwell's formidable track record when it comes to working with kids. Through Dec. 30 at the Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora; $34.90 to $46.90 at 630-896-6666 or paramountaurora.com

"A Christmas Carol": What's new this year with this downtown perennial? The Goodman Theatre prefers that you see their typically excellent and invariably moving production — once more with the fabulous Larry Yando as Ebenezer Scrooge, once more with the same tired stage set — as an endlessly repeatable tradition. Through Dec. 29 at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St.; $19.50-$88 at 312-443-3800 and goodmantheatre.org

"The Radio City Christmas Spectacular": After a gap of four years, the Rockettes are back in Rosemont, replete with the traditional spectacles and a couple of new numbers, including the Rockettes riding through a (storm-free) New York City on a double-decker bus. If you like spectacle with all the trimmings, this is your show. It's not quite Radio City, but you won't have to fight the New York crowds. Dec. 14-30 at the Akoo Theatre, 5400 N. River Road, Rosemont; $30-$75.50 at 800-745-3000 and akootheatre.com

"The Nativity": The Congo Square Theatre Company's reverent but updated version of the classic Langston Hughes "Black Nativity" piece has moved venues this year; McKinley Johnson's show will be seen this year at Kennedy-King College. It's always a spiritual experience and a powerful musical show that's ideal if you like some substance with your holiday entertainment. Dec. 13-23 by Congo Square Theatre at the Kennedy-King College Theater, 740 W. 63rd St.; $45 at congosquaretheatre.org

"The Nutcracker": Whenever readers ask for a show they can enjoy as a family but that's offbeat (you know, more Wicker Park than Wheaton), I always suggest House Theatre's sweet-but-grungy "Nutcracker," not the ballet but an original play about a grieving family made whole by Christmas. Through Dec. 30 by the House Theatre of Chicago at the Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division St.; $25-$35 at 773-769-3832 and thehousetheatre.com

"The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey": This show, back for another year, is based on a children's book by Susan Wojchiechowski, beloved in Christian circles. It's the story of a boy and his single mom trying to hang on to their Christmas traditions in a changing world. When I first saw this show, I was knocked out by the original score by Michael Mahler, one of Chicago's biggest composing talents. I'm planning on returning this year, especially since Susan Moniz is in the cast. Through Dec. 23 by Provision Theater Company, 1001 W. Roosevelt Road; $10-$32 at 866-811-4111 and provisiontheater.org

"It's a Wonderful Life":

For years I've compared these two old-time-radio-style takes on the beloved Christmas movie, eventually arriving at the conclusion that you'll be fine at either one, especially if you like a retro Christmas. I must say, though, that the American Theater version has a formidable weapon in the great Mike Nussbaum as Clarence and Mr. Potter. And Gwendolyn Whiteside is Mary at the Biograph.

• Previews Friday, opens Nov. 27 and runs through Dec. 30 by American Theater Company, 1909 W. Byron St.; $25-$40 at 773-409-4125 and atcweb.org

• Previews Friday, opens Nov. 29 and runs through Dec. 30 by American Blues Theater at the Biograph, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave.; $19-$49 at 773-871-3000 and americanbluestheater.com

"The Gifts of the Magi":

New to Chicago this year, this intimate Porchlight musical is a piece that celebrates the power of love, even when the holidays mean struggling through hard times. It's all based on the classic story by O. Henry, set during a New York Christmas back in 1905. It's a good choice for those who like their holiday shows to be both retro and heartwarming. Through Dec. 23 by the Porchlight Music Theatre at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave.; $39 at 773-327-5252 and porchlightmusictheatre.org

"We Three Lizas": One of the very few new parody shows (a venerable Chicago tradition) this year, "We Three Lizas" was created by Scott Bradley for those who need a little Minnelli-like diva with their sexy, gay Christmas entertainment. Pre-show cocktails are served in Liza's Lounge in the Steppenwolf Garage space. From Nov. 30 through Dec. 23 by About Face Theatre in the Steppenwolf Garage, 1624 N. Halsted St., $25 at steppenwolf.org or aboutfacetheatre.com

"Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical": Dr. Seuss' tale of the green, mean one (he with the heart two sizes too small) was on Broadway as a musical in 2007 and 2008 and now is out on a national tour. Max the Dog narrates a show that will be seen in Chicago for the first time this year. Dec. 5-16 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St.; $18-$85 at 800-775-2000 and broadwayinchicago.com

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