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Performing Arts Next 30 Days

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Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer

Through 1/2: Thu-Sun 7:30 PM

After 17 seasons (plus a one-year hiatus), Hell in a Handbag's regularly updated annual production of Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer is almost as much a Christmas tradition as its animated inspiration. This year is its first without longtime Handbag ensemble member Matthew Gunnels, who died of cancer last month. The cast honors him with a hilarious, raucous show during which Rudolph comes to accept his natural flair for accessorizing, Herbie the Elf finds his own way of being gay, Ruth Claus overcomes her drinking problem, and everyone learns that being normal is overrated. The actors vamp and camp and belt wholeheartedly, despite the small stage at Mary's Attic. A warning: sit too close and you'll see parts of Santa you can't ever unsee. —Aimee Levitt $16-$25

http://handbagproductions.org
Mary's Attic Theatre (map)
5400 N. Clark St.
Andersonville
phone 773-784-6969
Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer

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Yippee Ki-Yay, Merry Christmas: A Die Hard Christmas Musical

12/6-1/3: Sat 7:30 PM

Remember the original Die Hard? The one where Bruce Willis plays a cop caught up in a hostage situation with a very British, suit-obsessed Alan Rickman? Even if your brain's blocked that particular part of the 80s, odds are you'll still get a kick out of MCL's musical tribute to the erstwhile blockbuster. The camp dial here is firmly ratcheted up to stun, especially in a metasong where Willis croons out an omnibus of Rickman's future movie roles. Speaking of whom, if Rickman happened to wander into the show, there's a real chance he'd be upstaged by Mark Rudy's portrayal of him as super-slow-talking fashion diva Hans. And MCL (which stands for Music, Comedy, Live) is BYO, allowing you to imbibe cheap brews while watching Willis slay bad guys and rip men's fashion. Yippee ki-yay indeed. —Chloe Riley $15

MCL Chicago (map)
3110 N. Sheffield
Lakeview Yippee Ki-Yay, Merry Christmas: A Die Hard Christmas Musical

Twist Your Dickens or Scrooge You

Through 1/3: Tue-Thu 7:30 PM, Fri 8 PM, Sat 4 and 8 PM, Sun 3 and 7 PM, see website for holiday exceptions

Lots of theaters want a piece of Christmas. This year the Second City is cutting itself a couple. The fabled improv house has already got holiday shows running at its Old Town complex. Now it’s mounting this yuletide satire at Goodman Theatre—just down the hall from its biggest target, A Christmas Carol. Francis Guinan stars (until 12/26) as a Scrooge for whom visiting spirits are just one annoyance among many. The old pro-fracking bastard is also bedeviled by hecklers, unionized waifs, Logan Square hipsters, the Peanuts gang, George Bailey of It’s a Wonderful Life, and a roster of guest stars (including a disarmingly funny Rhymefest on the night I attended). Under the direction of Matt Hovde, the script and cast sometimes try too hard to be antic. But they’re entertaining more often than not, and the party Tiny Tim throws for his little friends is the most amusing bit of viciousness I've seen in a long time. –Tony Adler $20-$45

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Goodman Theatre (map)
170 N. Dearborn St.
Loop
phone 312-443-3800
Twist Your Dickens or Scrooge You

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Hansel & Gretel

Through 1/4: Fri-Mon 10 AM, Tue 10 AM and 1 PM; also Wed 12/31, 10 AM

This world premiere bills itself as a "wickedly delicious musical treat," and indeed the tone, Euro-hip with some goth bravado mixed in, is a welcome return to the dark fairy tale co-opted by a saccharine Disney sensibility. With the brothers Grimm (Jay Mast and Jeff Kurysz) as narrators, we follow a version of the story where Angelika, the children’s mother (Jennifer T. Grubb), has disappeared into the Black Forest; her kids' wanderlust stems simply from their deep desire to see her again. We journey too, realizing that, like Hansel (Jack Ball), we all want to believe in some kind of magic. Some of the songs in Justin Roberts's original score are merely serviceable, but others will have you singing along with the wickedly talented musician-actors: the rousing "This Place," "Crumb by Crumb," and Lotte the Witch's bawdy solo "You've Gotta Do It Alone." —Suzanne Scanlon $38.50

Buy from Ticketmaster
Broadway Playhouse (map)
175 E. Chestnut St.
Gold Coast/Mag Mile/Streeterville
phone 800-775-2000
Hansel & Gretel

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The King and I

Through 1/4: Wed 1 and 8 PM, Thu-Fri 8 PM, Sat 4:30 and 8 PM, Sun 1 and 5 PM

It is a puzzlement, if you get to thinking about it. Although set at the royal court of Siam, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's The King and I was notably light on actors with Asian roots when it premiered on Broadway in 1951. The role of lovesick Burmese concubine Tuptim, for instance, was played by an Italian-American Brooklynite (and cousin of Vic Damone) named Doretta Morrow. And the Siamese king himself? Famously portrayed by Yul Brynner, who was born at the far-eastern end of the Soviet Union but came from European stock. Yet the based-on-fact musical about Anna Leonowens—a Victorian Englishwoman hired to educate the king's many wives and children in Western ways—is nothing if not a hymn to tolerance. Like South Pacific before it, The King and I posits forbidden love and cultural clashes as a way to put over the classic liberal notion that we're all the same under the skin. This, after all, is the show that gave us "Getting to Know You." So it's interesting to see it now, in a new Marriott Theatre revival whose commitment to diversity is such that not just Asian- but African-American cast members appear as part of the king's retinue. Under Nick Bowling's direction, the show is simultaneously a repudiation and a vindication of Rodgers and Hammerstein's vision: it draws our attention to the limitations of their Eisenhower-era politics (which come close, at times, to evoking the White Man's Burden) while demonstrating that the American theater has in certain ways absorbed their generous premise and taken it a few steps further. Of course, that's only if you get to thinking about it. With Heidi Kettenring's Anna and some bravura moments onstage, there's no reason you can't ignore the meta-implications and have what R & H tried so hard to give us: an edifying good time. The second-act "Small House of Uncle Thomas Ballet"—a Siamese version of Uncle Tom's Cabin, devised by rebellious Tuptim and performed by the king's household—is handled here with enormous wit and grace. —Tony Adler

$40-$48

Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire (map)
10 Marriott Dr.
Suburbs Northwest
phone 847-634-0200
The King and I

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Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Goose

Through 1/4: times vary, see website

Victorian supersleuth Sherlock Holmes uncovers a case of fowl play in this family-friendly show, which has been substantially revised—and improved—since its debut in 2012. Based on Arthur Conan Doyle's 1892 tale "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle," it chronicles the efforts of Holmes (Graham Emmons) and his sidekick Dr. Watson (Damian Conrad) to deduce how a fabulous stolen diamond ended up in the gullet of someone's Christmas dinner. Director Michael Menendian (who cowrote the script with John Weagly) transforms the mystery story into a festive holiday entertainment, perfect for family groups, with plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor, comical sound effects, and jovial musical numbers, including a Christmas carol audience sing-along. —Albert Williams $20

Raven Theatre (map)
6157 N. Clark St.
Edgewater
phone 773-338-2177

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The BFG

Through 1/4: times vary, see website

Roald Dahl's subversive, cheerfully misanthropic worldview survives the translation from page to stage in this funny and inventive take on the author's 1982 kids’ novel. Resisting the urge to sweeten what's sour, adapter David Wood shows us innocent orphans getting eaten by ravenous giants, just as Dahl set it down. The big friendly giant referenced in the title is a strict vegetarian; his job, however, involves filling sleeping heads with sweet dreams of resisting authority. (He also farts in the presence of the Queen of England.) Director Morgan Ashley Madison tells the story with energy and confidence in her staging for Emerald City Theatre, using brisk pacing, cheeky performances, and, best of all, lifelike puppets (designed by Rough House Theatre) in a variety of sizes. —Zac Thompson $10-$20

http://emeraldcitytheatre.com
Apollo Theater (map)
2540 N. Lincoln Ave.
Lincoln Park
phone 773-935-6100

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Burning Bluebeard

12/15-1/4: times vary, see website

Last year when Reader theater critic Tony Adler saw Burning Bluebeard, a play inspired by Chicago's 1903 Iroquois Theatre fire, he wrote, "To say this 100-minute Ruffians show revisits the disaster doesn't do it justice. No, Burning Bluebeard relives it. Then transcends it. Then so do we." Tonight's opening performance is sold out, but there are plenty of other chances to catch the show. $36-$45

Theater Wit (map)
1229 W. Belmont
Lakeview
phone 773-975-8150
Burning Bluebeard

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Dee Snider's Rock and Roll Christmas Tale

Through 1/4: Tue-Fri 7:30 PM (except Thu 12/25), Sat 2 and 8 PM, Sun 2 and 7:30 PM
,

For three months in 2010, Twisted Sister front man Dee Snider had a role in the hair-metal jukebox musical Rock of Ages. I'm guessing that's when he decided it wouldn't be so hard to write one of his own. What he came up with is pretty amusing in concept: a tale of four lovable headbangers so dumb they can't even sell their souls to Satan correctly. No matter how hard they try, their highway to hell turns into a stairway to heaven. It might've made for a strong ten minutes in an off-Loop sketch revue. But what we've got here isn't a sketch. It's a cheesy 90-minute pseudospectacle, poorly thought out and sloppily executed in a production that screams undercapitalized! Snider appears, mostly as the narrator, doing lead-ins like "They would soon find out," and the score mixes his signature tunes with rocked-up Christmas standards. You'd have to be a real Twisted Sister fanatic to get any pleasure out of this, and I don't know any. —Tony Adler $38-$91

Buy from Ticketmaster
Broadway Playhouse (map)
175 E. Chestnut St.
Gold Coast/Mag Mile/Streeterville
phone 800-775-2000
Dee Snider's Rock and Roll Christmas Tale

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Camelot

Through 1/4: Wed 1:30 PM, Thu 1:30 and 8 PM, Fri 8 PM, Sat 5 and 8:30 PM, Sun 2 and 6 PM

Drury Lane's revival of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's 1960 musical about King Arthur and his court seems to have everything going for it—strong direction and choreography (Alan Souza), a terrific cast, great costumes (Maggie Hofmann), and a brilliant set (Kevin Depinet), all to go with a wonderful score full of memorable tunes. And Christy Altomare is everything you'd want in a Guenevere—charming, vivacious, and with a voice to die for. Likewise, Travis Taylor's Lancelot is very much the kind of knight—filled with equal measures of chivalry and testosterone—who'd sweep a queen off her feet. Sadly, it's all for naught: the cracks in Lerner's famously misbegotten book still show. The story lurches along, and parts of the show feel like a misfiring SNL sketch. —Jack Helbig $40-$55

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Newsies

12/10-1/4: times vary, see website

Disney's 1992 movie musical begat this 2012 stage adaptation now touring in an Equity production, and it has all the strengths and weaknesses of a typical Disney effort. The product is nearly flawless, the casting perfect, the set amazing, the performances (at a technical level) virtuosic. Still, there's something creepy and corporate about the whole enterprise—particularly given the subject matter, the New York City newsboys' strike of 1899. Harvey Fierstein's book does its job without much fire, and Alan Menken and Jack Feldman's formulaic Tony-Award-winning score is nice but utterly forgettable. More troubling is how much has been Photoshopped out of this account of desperately poor kids scraping out a living on the streets: this Disneyfied New York seems no more real than Cinderella Castle. —Jack Helbig $47-$117

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Christmas Bingo: It's a Ho-Ho-Holy Night!

Through 1/4: Fri-Sat 8 PM, Sun 2 PM

Vicki Quade of Late Night Catechism fame allows no "lapsed Catholics" in her classroom; in her eyes there are just baptized followers of varying degrees of practice, heathens, and whatever Lutherans are. As her alter ego Sister Mary Margaret O'Brien, Quade calls short games of bingo between prepared bits of gentle comedy and, more often than not, stream-of-consciousness musings on topics like Black Friday, Tom Cruise, and the feminist subtext of A Miracle on 34th Street. Close to two hours is a long time to spend competing for prizes like old VHS tapes, but Quade makes the whole experience genuinely warm and inviting—even if Sister Mary Margaret isn't. —Dan Jakes $30

Royal George Theatre Center (map)
1641 N. Halsted St.
Lincoln Park
phone 312-988-9000

The Wizard of Oz

11/7-1/4: Tue-Sun, 10 AM and 12:30 PM

Musical based on the classic 1939 film. $15

Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire (map)
10 Marriott Dr.
Suburbs Northwest
phone 847-634-0200

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Shining City

Through 1/4: Thu-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 3 PM

Chicago's slow-mo, spontaneous Conor McPherson play festival continues with this Irish Theatre of Chicago (formerly Seanachaí) staging of his 2004 script, about a troubled therapist and his perhaps literally haunted patient. One benefit of the McPherson phenomenon is that it helps you get to know the Dublin-based playwright's tics, tales, and preoccupations. Shining City, for instance, offers interesting echoes of Port Authority (2001) and foretastes of The Night Alive (2013). But as directed here by Jeff Christian, it can't offer much else. Used as transition music, Christian's own neofolk compositions (cowritten with Matt Kahler) stamp out every hint of momentum. His handling of a crucial surprise is oafish. And worse, he wastes the talents of Brad Armacost (the patient) and Coburn Goss (the therapist) on poorly shaped scenes. The only survivors are the two cast members who, appearing in a scene apiece, aren't hobbled by Christian's start/stop approach: Carolyn Kruse, playing the therapist's doormat girlfriend, and Shane Kenyon, gruffly sensational as a man very, very far down on his luck. —Tony Adler $26

http://irishtheatreofchicago.org
Den Theatre (map)
1329-1333 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Wicker Park/Bucktown
phone 773-609-2336
Shining City

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Spaceboy

11/16-1/4: Sun 8 PM

Ben Larrison's comedy about a young boy kidnapped by rogue NASA employees. $10

Annoyance Theatre (map)
851 W. Belmont
Lakeview
phone 773-697-9693

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