Holiday Theater, Anyone?

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

The holidays are upon us. There's no escaping it. From the incessant carols at Rite Aid, and the ringing of the Salvation Army bells outside to the crystal clear brisk blue skies above, it's that time of year. And what better way to get in the seasonal spirit than with a little holiday theater?

Here are some, mostly family friendly picks:

xmas_carol.jpgLet's start with the traditional. What would the holidays be without a little Dickens and A Christmas Carol. For the last 31 years, South Coast Rep in Costa Mesa has groomed this yule-tide war horse to a high sheen. This is the no nonsense Christmas goose, the same-every-year- production and there's something wonderful about that. If you're looking for the familiar and comforting story of Scrooge - look no further. They do a beautiful job.

nutcracker.jpgSpeaking of the standards, how about the Nutcracker? There's something out there for everyone: from hip-hop sugar-plum fairies to more traditional ballet toy soldiers. My pick is the hidden downtown gem at Bob Baker Marionettes Theater. One of the oldest children's theaters in the country, Bob's been tugging kid's heartstrings since the early 60's and it's a wonderful retro time warp. You've got the choice of sitting on the carpet at eye level with the puppets or in folding chairs in the back. The puppets are amazing, and the shows are a little song, a little dance and then out to the lobby for ice cream. If afternoon naps and drool are still part of your repertoire, this one's for you.

99-cent.jpgBut, if you're looking for a surrealist mash-up of consumerism, holiday cheer, and musical dance theater... then Ken Roht's got you covered with another installment of his 99¢ Only Show. The visual conceit behind his productions is that everything, and I mean everything, you see on stage came from the 99¢ Only store. Roht, who serves as all-around impresario together with the brilliant costume designer Ann Closs-Farley, transforms shower curtains into ball gowns and sink strainers into jeweled crowns. All this is wrapped around what amounts to an avante-garde fairy tale with different strange holiday heroes each year. In past years we've followed the saga of a Korean boy band spreading peace, chowed down in a western dinner theater and fought for the soul of Golden Boy, who or whatever that was. The show is always a glorious mess; no clear narrative through line -- but heartfelt un-ironic joy in a profoundly kitschy setting all the fun happens at the Bootleg Theater in Silver Lake.

normal.jpgLastly, if all the hustle and bustle has you going nuts, why not check out Next to Normal. In a bit of perversely brilliant holiday counter-programming, the Ahmanson is presenting the Broadway musical that tackles a woman's struggle with mental illness. After all, what says happy holidays more than shock therapy? Seriously, Next to Normal is a Broadway standout from recent years and this touring production includes Alice Ripley's searing Tony Award-winning performance.

For info on all these holiday treats, text the word “curtain” to 69866.

What are your holiday favorites? Join the conversation at

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


Banner image: Ken Roht's The 99¢ Only Show. Photo: Ken Roht

Ticket information:

Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol at South Coast Repertory
Call 714-708-5555 or go online at

Bob Baker Marionette Theatre's Nutcracker
Call 213-250-9995 or go online at

Ken Roht's Same-O, A 99¢ Only Electric Ballad at the Bootleg Theater
Go online at

Next to Normal at the Ahmanson Theatre
Call 213-628-2772 or go online at