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Baltimore Backstage: Where to go for your Ho! Ho! Ho! A guide to holiday shows for 2022

On Dec. 10, the Banneker-Douglass Museum will  bring the community together to celebrate Kwanzaa and its history. Griot Janice Greene, shown here, told a Kwanzaa story to the audience at last year's celebration.

It’s time to practice your best “Bah! Humbug!” Get ready to crack a few nuts.

The 2022 holiday season in Baltimore is already underway. Here at the Sun, we have perused calendar listings and scrutinized arts groups’ websites while wearing our ugliest holiday sweater to put together a list of Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa celebrations for you, our fellow revelers.

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There are enough productions of “A Christmas Carol,” “The Nutcracker” and Handel’s “Messiah” alone to cover each one of The Twelve Days of Christmas.

Before you send your humble scribe a stocking full of coal, we should emphasize that this list includes several — not all — live performances with a holiday theme in Baltimore and the surrounding counties.

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Think of this article as a starting point for curating your own list of ways to celebrate the first December in recent years in which the threat posed by COVID-19 has arguably begun to recede.

Don’t you wish your holiday shopping was this easy?

‘A Christmas Carol’

Charles Dickens’ anger at social injustice is what makes his writing so powerful. This holiday classic is no exception. Though the play is often celebrated for Dickens’ depiction of the Cratchits’ domestic bliss (an idealized family life which the author sought for himself but never obtained), beneath the surface, “A Christmas Carol” is incandescent with rage. And in many ways, the problems facing impoverished London urchins in 1843 aren’t much different from those facing squeegee kids in Baltimore in 2022.

The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company is setting its version of the classic in Victorian Baltimore as re-imagined by historian Laura Rocklyn. (Dec. 2-23, chesapeakeshakespeare.com.)

Meanwhile, there are two productions in which one actor plays dozens of roles, highlighting the play’s theme of a common humanity: actor Phil Gallagher stars from Dec. 10-16 at Spotlighters Theatre (spotlighters.org) while actor Paul Morella, half man and half chameleon, does the same through Jan. 1 at the Olney Theatre Center. (olneytheatre.org).

‘The Nutcracker’

There’s a reason most ballet companies generate about 40% of their annual holiday revenue from performances of this chestNut. With a score by Tchaikovsky, second-act bravura solos and adorable children cavorting on stage in Victorian clothes, what’s not to like? I found seven local productions before I stopped looking.

The Baltimore School for the Arts show running Dec. 8-17 (bsfa.org) showcases very young — and very talented — dancers enacting a story about a young girl’s dreaming of the adult she will soon become.

Along the same lines, the Maryland Youth Ballet, which also trains young dancers for professional careers, will stage its “Nutcracker” and abbreviated, “Mini-Nut” from Dec. 16-26 (marylandyouthballet.org.)

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There are at least two fully professional productions: Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s “Nutcracker” will be performed in Annapolis from Dec. 10-18 (balletmaryland.org). And the 30th anniversary tour of “Nutcracker! Magical Christmas” visits the Hippodrome Theatre Dec. 7-8 with an international cast of medal-winning dancers (baltimore.broadway.com.)

For a more offbeat offering, check out “The Bluegrass Nutcracker” on Dec. 3 at The Creative Alliance featuring an eight-piece bluegrass band playing all 17 movements (creativealliance.org); “The Hip Hop Nutcracker” with Guest MC Kurtis Blow at the Music Center at Strathmore from Dec. 19-22 (strathmore.org) or the Cirque Holiday Soiree, in which acrobats and tumblers perform to Pyotr Tschaikovsky’s famous score on Dec. 10-11 (bsomusic.org.)

Handel’s ‘Messiah’

Jesus Christ — at least as envisioned in this 281-year-old oratorio — was “a man of sorrows/ and acquainted with grief.” Has the preacher from Nazareth ever seemed more human?

The Handel Choir of Baltimore will present the only local performance on all-period instruments on Dec. 10 (handelchoir.org). Columbia’s Pro Cantare “Messiah” on Dec. 4 features a quartet of soloists with international opera careers (procantare.org).

And if like my late father, you just can’t help booming out “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Halle-lujah!” in tune or out of tune at any given moment, you’ll definitely want to stop by one of the two area sing-alongs: the Christmas (or first) portion will be performed Dec. 17 at Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church in Severna Park (woodschurch.org) while you can belt out the musical highlights from all three parts on Dec. 20 at Frederick’s Weinberg Center for the Arts (fredcc.org).

Hanukkah

Though the holiday traditionally is celebrated at home, several public menorah lightings are planned for Dec. 18, the first day of the nine-day annual Festival of Lights.

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“Illumination Celebration: Firelight” at the Gordon Center for the Performing Arts in Owings Mills will feature a candle-lighting ceremony, music and a light-and-stunt show (jcc.org/gordon-center.) The 2nd Annual Menorah Lighting at the Avenue at White Marsh will also include donuts, ice-skating and a ”gelt” (candy coins) drop (jewishwhitemarsh.org). There will be a menorah lighting and parade at the Annapolis City Dock (visitannapolis.org), while the event in Old Ellicott City will feature performances by a klezmer band and The Human Dreidels (visitoldellicottcity.com.)

Kwanzaa

Unlike December’s other two big-name holidays, Kwanzaa is a cultural, not religious, festival with the goal of uniting and empowering the Black community.

Probably the largest Kwanzaa celebration (bdmuseum.maryland.gov) is sponsored by the state of Maryland and will be held Dec. 10 in the Banneker-Douglass Museum in Annapolis. This year’s theme is the creativity of the African Diaspora and the festival will include African dance and storytelling performances, tours of the current exhibit, food, and crafts sold by Black-owned businesses.

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball is scheduled to preside over the Dec. 28 Kwanzaa Celebration at the Harriet Tubman Cultural Center in Columbia, which will feature musical performances, vendors and a kids’ corner (eventbrite.com).

Finally, Morgan State University (events.morgan.edu) is throwing a pre-Kwanzaa cultural celebration Dec. 3. There will be a fashion show, free lunch, storytelling sessions, dance performances, children’s crafts, gifts for sale and more.

The best of the rest

Some of the most memorable holiday experiences take place off the beaten trolley track.

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For instance, ArtsCentric, the self-described “color-conscious theater troupe” dedicated to reclaiming classical musicals for Black performers, is launching “A Motown Christmas...in Drag” from Dec. 10-24. It’s described as “an interactive drag show experience” that includes live music, performances and lip-syncing extravaganzas. It doesn’t get much better than that. (artscentric.org).

In a similar vein, the annual Holiday Spectacular, coproduced by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, features an ever-popular lineup of tap-dancing Santas, Wordsmith’s intricate spoken word tapestries, and what the website describes as “musical surprises” Dec. 17-18. (bsomusic.org)

For 35 years, musician Chip Davis has been touring the nation with his “Mannheim Steamroller Christmas,” an innovative mix of re-imagined classic carols, a light show, videos and special effects. The performance is Dec. 4 at The Lyric Baltimore. (lyricbaltimore.com)

Finally, holiday lights might not technically constitute a live performance — but the quirky charms of Hampden’s Miracle on 34th Street comes awfully close. Through Jan. 1, motorists and pedestrians will swarm to a few blocks on the North side to ooh at the Christmas tree made of hubcaps and ah at the oversized face of Natty Boh decked out in fairy lights. (christmasstreet.com).

If a “flock party” of florescent pink flamingoes doesn’t convey a Baltimore Christmas to you, what does?


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