A lowbrow holiday in the theater

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Okay, it's unavoidable. The holidays are upon us. Amidst the turkeys, black Fridays and Holiday parties, how about a little theater? Here's a quick list of the holiday spectacles on our stages.

Like dance companies have their Nutcrackers, the theater has A Christmas Carol. Your best bets for this classic are South Coast Repertory's production, now in its 38th year down in Costa Mesa or out in Pasadena at A Noise Within. You're not going to get anything shocking but that's the point with this one: ghosts of Christmas past for the whole family.

If you want something with a little more of a Valley feel, try the Troubadour Theater's annual holiday mashup. This year at the El Portal, it's The Princh who stole Christmas combining Dr. Seuss with the music of Prince. The style is broad, the jokes intentionally lowbrow but it's fun and feels like you're crashing everyone's favorite holiday party.

If you want your puns even broader than that, head to the Ahmanson for Something Rotten. Another mashup, it's set in 1590 and mines musicals and Shakespeare for as many sophomoric jokes as possible. But if you're looking for something frizzy for the relatives from out of town this might be an excellent choice.

If you'd like to stay in merry old England but want some acrobatics thrown in The Wallis is presenting The Heart of Robin Hood. Geared towards a 'tween set, it's a modern take on the legend complete with a swashbuckling Marion, parkour, and a hipster band. Probably not for the little one's but good for, as the Wallis puts it, "brave children."

Of course, the hot musical ticket in LA right now is Hamilton but unless you're willing to throw down close to a grand for a pair of tickets you're out of luck. But you can catch the spoof Spamilton at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, which, you guessed it, pokes fun at the original.

Are you catching the low-brow holiday trend here?

If want something a little darker that's definitely not family friendly, head to North Hollywood for Zombie Joe's Underground holiday-horror-theater-spectacular Bloody Alley Christmas - the name sort of says it all. It's a shoe-box theater in North Hollywood that isn't afraid of a little darkness.

And if you just want whole-family-friendly spectacle you can always hit up Cirque Du Soleil's Luzia at Dodger Stadium or head up to Ventura for Cavalia’s Odysseo the horse-ridden circus tent show.

Now if you want something a little deeper, you either need to catch the handful of shows in LA's intimate theaters that are finishing out their fall runs or wait for the inevitable wave of opening weekends in the New Year. It's telling that LA theaters struggle with the holidays.

It makes me long for Ken Roht's old "99 cent" holiday spectaculars.

Almost a decade ago, Ken would mount an annual holiday show crafted entirely from items found at the 99¢ Store. Ken's irreverent physical style and outlandish plot lines combined with glorious costumes hewn out of tablecloths and colanders forming a ritual that was simultaneously deeply ironic, profoundly heartfelt, and always redemptive. Encased in each costume was both an inherent criticism of the over-commercialization of the holiday season and paradoxically a celebration of that very materialism.

Alas, that's become yet another ghost of Christmas' past.

For info on the shows and to subscribe to the weekly KCRW theater newsletter, check out: kcrw.com/theater.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Photo: Glenn Bassett in the West Coast premiere of Spamilton.  © 2017 Craig Schwartz