David Shipley as Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol”
The holidays are a special time of year for Memphis theaters. It’s the time when audiences that may not be accustomed to attending regular season plays buy tickets to see holiday classics. It’s a period of sampling when our theaters go full-on populist, reviving name-brand products and putting their best foot forward. Here’s a handy guide to what’s currently on stage, with a couple of special options for Grinchier theatergoers who’ve had their fill of Tuna, Tiny Tim, and little boys who never grow up.
A Christmas Carol at Theatre Memphis
Theater Memphis was late to the party. Charles Dickens’ spirited ghost story, A Christmas Carol, has been been a popular favorite for 172 years. The elegantly appointed playhouse on Perkins Ext. has only been staging the original nightmare before Christmas for the last 38.
The musically underpinned show has been revised and reinvented many times over the decades, but for most of those 38 years, Theatre Memphis used designer Jay Ehrlicher’s Victorian Christmas village designs. In 2010, Theatre Memphis enlisted director/script adaptor and designer Jason Spitzer and designer Christopher McCollum to reinvent the annual event from the ground up. The result was a grimmer, and more spectacular take on industrial London, and a ghostlier, grander take on old Scrooge’s redemption story.
It’s been two years since Barry Fuller, Memphis’ quintessential Scrooge, took a break from the role, but his large slippers have been filled by Memphis actor David Shipley. Memphis favorite John Rone returns for his fifth consecutive Carol in the role of Bob Cratchit. A Christmas Carol is at Theatre Memphis through December 23rd, $15-$30.theatrememphis.org
Peter Pan at Playhouse on the Square
Perhaps you remember the disastrous televised production of Peter Pan starring Christopher Walken, who had trouble remembering his lines. If you don’t, consider yourself fortunate. Otherwise, don’t be afraid, Playhouse on the Square has been bringing Neverland to life on and off for decades. With veterans like Carly Crawford and Bill Andrews returning in the roles of Peter and Captain Hook, audiences will be in good hands.
A bit of trivia: Andrews is sharing the Captain’s role with Playhouse on the Square’s associate producer, Michael Detroit. Detroit was originally selected as a Playhouse company member in 1989 and cast as the famous one-handed pirate. While he’s distinguished himself in numerous roles over the years, this is his first time to actually strap on the Hook. Peter Pan is at Playhouse on the Square through Jan. 10th. playhouseonthesquare.org
Miracle on 34th Street: A Live Radio Play
The holidays tend to make people nostalgic. And what’s more nostalgic than a live performance of an old-time radio play? In a year when every other theater is dusting off popular favorites, Germantown Community Theatre is trying something a little different. Valentine Davies’ story about a little girl and a department store Santa (who’s either delusional or the real thing) is directed by GCT regulars Brian and Rachael Everson, with sound effect help from Memphis’ own Chatterbox Audio Theatre.
If radio theater’s your thing, you may also want to check out Chatterbox’s latest offering, Spoon River Anthology Part I. The audiocentric company has just completed its first crowdsourcing campaign and is beginning work on The Warriors by Evan Linder and Mary Hollis Inboden. The Warriors is a moving docudrama about the survivors of the 1998 Westside Middle School shooting in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Miracle on 34th Street is at Germantown Community Theatre through Dec. 20th. $12-$24.gctcomeplay.org
A Tuna Christmas at Circuit Playhouse
Two actors. Twenty characters. One tiny town. Audiences can’t seem to get enough of Arles, Thurston, Didi, Elmer, Bertha, Vera, Inita, Helen, and all of the other colorful residents of Greater Tuna — Texas’ third-smallest town.
Will Vera Carp win the annual yard display competition for the 15th time in a row? Or will the whole holiday be spoiled by the mysterious Christmas Phantom? These and similar questions drive a quick-change farce showcasing the talents of two of Memphis’ funniest and most versatile actors, John Hemphill and Jonathan Christian.
A Tuna Christmas is at Circuit Playhouse through Dec. 27th. $12-$37.playhouseonthesquare.org
If Scrooge Was a Brother at the Hattiloo
The origins of Overton Square’s Hattiloo Theatre are linked to Ekundayo Bandele’s play, If Scrooge Was a Brother. Scrooge wasn’t Bandele’s first go at creating original theater, but it’s the play that got him hooked on the idea of developing original content and building a new audience for live theater in Memphis. He rewrote his Dickens-inspired script numerous times, bringing it back in one scrappy independent production after another. As Bandele grew and evolved, so did the play, which has become a Hattiloo staple. The story is modeled after A Christmas Carol but ends with uncertainty rather than redemption. At least old Eb Scroo attends church with the people he's evicted from their homes instead of having an annual Christmas breakfast at the country club he's not allowed to join. If Scrooge was a Brother is at the Hattiloo through Dec. 20th. $16-$26.hattiloo.org
All’s Well That Ends Well at the Dixon Gallery & Gardens
All's Well That Ends Well is a holiday treat that has nothing to do with the holidays. This may not be the Tennessee Shakespeare Company’s most ambitious effort, but it’s a charming, refreshingly simple take on a rarely-produced comedy. Lydia Barnett-Mulligan is preternaturally chipper and full of life as Helen, a lowborn orphan with healing powers, who's determined to get and keep her man Bertram, no matter how grotesque and unworthy he proves himself. (More about the plot here.) This may very well be Shakespeare’s most female-oriented play. Barnett-Mulligan is supported by Stephanie Shine as a grounded Spanish Countess and mother figure to Helen, Jeanna Juleson as the widow Capilet, and Caitlin McWethy as the spunky Diana, who helps Helen trick her inconstant (and undeserving) husband Bertram into bed. All’s Well That Ends Well is at the Dixon Gallery & Gardens through Dec. 20th. $16-$34.tnshakespeare.org
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change at Playhouse on the Square
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change is another worthy offering for theatergoers looking for some respite from holiday cheer. It’s a fully clothed burlesque show, stripped from the glittery tease and feathery illusions of glamor. Instead of being about bumps, grinds, and girls, girls, girls, it’s a musical sketch comedy about the gritty realities of dating, falling in love, and falling into routines, and sometimes just falling.
There’s no narrative connecting the musical numbers and comedy sketches in I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. Each bit is self-contained. “Satisfaction Guaranteed” is a music-free skit satirizing late-night TV commercials for law firms. These sharks will arbitrate to get you the kink you deserve, and even sue your partner if they fail to satisfy you in bed. It plays out like an early-season Saturday Night Live skit, still funny if a little stale. “A Stud and a Babe” is timeless by comparison. It’s like a tiny little musical inside a musical showing us how even wallflowers can get lucky on occasion. “Tear Jerk” is another joke that still works in spite of its well-worn subject matter. It will appeal to every man who has ever agreed to take his date to a “chick flick.” I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change is at Playhouse on the Square in rep with Peter Pan through Dec 19th. $35-$40. playhouseonthesquare.org
Project: Motion’s “All is Bright” at the Woodruff-Fontaine House
Every year at about this time, Project: Motion visits the Woodruff-Fontaine house and museum in Victorian Village to create what the modern dance company calls a “House Happening.”
The theme to this year’s happening is “All Is Bright.” In addition to illuminating dance performances, Project: Motion will move beyond the four walls of the 19th century mansion-turned-museum to spotlight pathways and backhouses. “We’re treating the main house as a portal to the rest of the grounds,” says dancer and choreographer Louisa Koeppel. “We want to shed light on the carriage house, the root cellar, and the gingerbread house in the back.”
Audiences of not more than 60 per show will split into groups and receive docent-guided tours through three revolutions of the house and grounds. Along the route, they’ll encounter works by Koeppel and her fellow choreographers Rebecca Cochran, Wayne Smith, and Emily Hefley, in addition to teddy bear installation-artist Sheri Bancroft and monologist Adam Remsen. House Happening 3: “All is Bright” is at the Woodruff-Fontaine House through Dec. 20th. $25.projectmotiondance.org