Must-see family-friendly holiday performances in the Baltimore area

This holiday season in and around Baltimore will be alive with the actual sound of music. Not to mention the sight of reindeer, toy soldiers and Tiny Tim.

The performance schedule through the end of the year includes a good number of events aimed at people of all ages — or "kids from 1 to 92," as the you-know-what song goes. Here's a sampling of family-friendly entertainment options that ought to help keep holiday spirits perky.


Brian Stokes Mitchell and Baltimore Symphony

This year's major holiday show from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is "'Tis the Season with Brian Stokes Mitchell," one of Broadway's most admired singer/actors. Mitchell, who took a home a Tony Award for best actor in "Kiss Me, Kate" 15 years ago, also has an active concert life. Holiday programs, which the vibrant baritone has sung with the New York Philharmonic and Mormon Tabernacle Choir, are a particular favorite of his.


"I was practically raised with Christmas music," says Mitchell. "At our house, we'd always open presents with our Christmas records playing. 'Little Drummer Boy' was one of my favorites when I was a kid because it was about a kid. I'll be doing that in the concert. And 'You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch' — kids love that song."

In addition to singing, the Seattle-born Mitchell is an experienced arranger and orchestrator; he arranged several of the items on the BSO program, including "The Christmas Song."

"The arrangements feel traditional, but they're done in ways that haven't been done before," he says. "I love rethinking and reimagining songs."

Writing them, too — Mitchell's own contribution to the holiday repertoire, "Christmas Is," will be on the program. "It's about seeing things kids love about Christmas," he says, "but adults will understand some more sophisticated things going on in the song. There's a bit of commentary on what's going on in politics today."

Mitchell, who works Hanukkah into the program as well, sees the concert as a way of spreading cheer.

"One of my hopes is that people will feel better than when they walked in," he says. "I want them to laugh and feel exhilarated — and walk out ready to take on the holidays."

2 p.m. Dec. 9, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Dec. 11 and 12, 3 p.m. Dec. 13 at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St. And 8 p.m. Dec. 10 at Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. $25 to $99. 410-783-8000,

'The Sound of Music' at the Hippodrome


Sure, "The Sound of Music" isn't really related to the holidays, but it does have those references to "sleigh bells," "warm woolen mittens," and "snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes" in "My Favorite Things," just one of the popular songs from this show by composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II.

And the based-on-a-true-story plot of the Austrian widower, Captain von Trapp, and the postulant who becomes governess to his children in Austria, just as the Nazis are about to take over the country, offers fitting messages for this time of year about love and pulling together.

Nowadays, most people may think Julie Andrews and widescreen Alpine scenery when they think "The Sound of Music."

"But Richard Rodgers was pretty angry about the [1965] film," says Jack O'Brien, director of the new national touring production. "I think people are surprised to find out that the film isn't the way the piece was originally conceived. It is so much richer in the stage version. Of course, you don't have the Alps to look at."

O'Brien, who won a Tony for directing "Hairspray" on Broadway, has assembled a similarly seasoned creative team for this revival to provide visual attractions to complement a cast that includes newcomer Kerstin Anderson, who was plucked from college to portray the would-be nun Maria. The first person in that role was theater great Mary Martin.

"Mary Martin, God love her, was 46 years old when she played Maria," O'Brien says. "The character was meant to be 20 or 21. I got someone who is 21. And the Mother Abbess is younger here, too, so she can see herself in this young 'problem called Maria.'"


Ashley Brown, who originated the role of Mary Poppins on Broadway a few years ago, plays the Mother Abbess in the production, which started as a tour vehicle a few months ago. No word yet on whether it will get a New York run.

"It deserves to be seen on Broadway," Brown says. "Jack O'Brien took away the preconceived notions we all know. It's a fresh version. And it's really powerful. It resonates, no matter what city we visit."

Dec. 8 to Dec. 13 at Hippodrome Theatre, 12 N. Eutaw St. 800-982-2787, $35.25 TO $145.25 Two-for-one tickets available for 'Kids Night' Dec. 9 at (use promo code KIDSNIGHT).

'A Christmas Carol' at Chesapeake Shakespeare

In 1842, the year before he wrote his beloved story "A Christmas Carol," Charles Dickens visited Baltimore and stayed at a hotel on Calvert Street a short distance from where Chesapeake Shakespeare Company now makes its home.

In a little nod to that visit, the theater troupe unveiled a stage version of "A Christmas Carol" last year set in Baltimore, rather than London. That very family-friendly production, sprinkled with live music, returns this season.


"I've tightened the script and added a German character," says company artistic director Ian Gallanar, the writer and stage director of this adaptation. "I changed some of the music around and have some new carols. I included a Polish carol to represent the Polish community in Baltimore. The 19th century saw a lot of newcomers to Baltimore, and I wanted to reflect that."

You can still count on meeting miserly, miserable Scrooge, his long-suffering employee, Bob Cratchit, and all the expected ghosts. But now Scrooge lives in a handsome townhouse that suggests the Mount Vernon neighborhood, and characters make reference to various other places in and around in the city.

Several cast members from the inaugural production are returning, including Gregory Burgess as Scrooge.

"We've got some new ones as well," Gallanar says. "Our Bob Cratchit actor [Patrick Kilpatrick] has his 5-year-old son appearing as Tiny Tim. That's a fun little family thing going on. This show is perfectly fitted for families."

As was the case last year, colorblind casting is the rule for this "Christmas Carol."

"We tried to make the cast as diverse as the city we live in," Gallanar says. "We're very happy to put this on the stage."


Friday to Dec. 23 at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company Theater, 7 S. Calvert St. $19 to $59. 410-244-8570,

'Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical'

One of the Christmas songs aimed straight at kids, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" has been a staple since Gene Autry's recording was a massive hit in 1949. And the animated TV special from 1964 has appealed to generations of Christmas-happy youngsters. Only a matter of time, then, before we would get "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical."

This stage show is an adaptation of the TV show, which, in turn, was adapted from the original 1939 story by Robert L. May about "the most famous reindeer of all" whose nose was so bright it helped guide Santa's sled "one foggy night." It was May's brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, who wrote the Rudolph song and several others, including "A Holly Jolly Christmas," that were incorporated into the TV show.

Those songs are preserved as well in the stage musical, directed and conceived by Jeff Frank and the Milwaukee-based children's theater, First Stage, which premiered the work in 2012. Using puppets and furry costumes worn by actors, the musical tells the whole tale about Rudolph, how "all of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names" and never let him "join in any reindeer games." And, of course, how he ended up proving the hero.

A production of the musical started touring the country this month and winds up its travels in Baltimore on Christmas weekend.


1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Dec. 26 and Dec. 27 at Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric, 140 W. Mt. Royal Ave. $29 to $59. 410-900-1150,

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'Home Alone': Movie and Music

The BSO's holiday activities include playing a live soundtrack to a screening of the 1990 hit movie "Home Alone." That's the one about the kid (Macaulay Culkin) who inadvertently is left behind when the rest of his family flies from Chicago to Paris for the Christmas holidays; he ends up fighting off burglars while home alone.

"I have a strong connection to the movie," says BSO assistant conductor Nicholas Hersh, who will be at the podium. "It was a big part of my childhood, especially since the setting was not far from where I grew up."

The Baltimore Choral Arts Society will join the BSO for this presentation of the movie, which preserves the dialogue as you would normally hear it in a movie theater or on TV, only with first-rate musicians performing the whole film score live to give it extra impact. And that score is by no less than the venerable John Williams.

"His music is so beautiful and expansive and romantic," Hersh says. "But you can still hear the big, sweeping action style of the John Williams of 'Star Wars' at some level in this score as well, especially the battle scenes with the bad guys in the house."


3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 19 at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St. $19 to $62. 410-783-8000,