There’s no better time to come out and support Chicago theater than during festival season, when hot holiday performances abound. Here are 10 suggestions, all with seasonal themes. Some are new this year, but many are season favorites that I can wholeheartedly recommend. And if none of that floats your holiday boat, plenty of non-holiday shows are also on offer, from “Hamilton” in the Loop to “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” in Lincolnshire.
Third time Since 2019 premiereA new version of Cirque du Soleil’s downtown holiday show returns to the Loop for peak December weeks. It’s based on Clement Clarke Moore’s classic poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” and centers around a jaded young girl who rediscovers the magic of the holidays with the help of some circus performers. I’m told there have been many improvements since the last screening in 2021. That’s good news, especially since for many people this is the show they’ll combine with a seasonal trip to downtown Chicago.
Dec. 7-28, Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State St.; tickets $36-$111 www.cirquedusoleil.com
Even secular theatergoers tend to appreciate C.S. Lewis’ spiritual musings; Here’s a seasonal twist, as the Oxford professor and renowned author reminisces about how his friend JRR Tolkien forever changed his beliefs about the Christmas story as “the one true legend.” British actor David Payne, who stars here Previously as LewisHe plays the beloved author in this traveling film aimed at those of a certain age who enjoy deep thoughts with their hot friends.
Dec. 5-10, Broadway Playhouse, 175 E. Chestnut St.; tickets $52.75-$71.50 www.broadwayinchicago.com
American Blues Theater is about to cut the ribbon on its new home, and that means a fresh start for its annual radio play adaptation of Frank Capra’s classic film. Artistic director Gwendolyn Whiteside directs a cast of longtime American Blues regulars in the acclaimed film; a cast many of whom are now as familiar to local audiences as their iconic characters.
Dec. 8-31, American Blues Theatre, 5627 N. Lincoln Ave.; tickets $25-65 americanbluestheater.com
An annual holiday treat for the very young, this toddler-friendly event features puppets, music and storytellers exploring characters and stories from Beatrix Potter’s beloved children’s books, including the classic “The Story of Peter Rabbit.” Young and not-so-young theatergoers are encouraged to dress in their own finery. The post-show experience includes cheesecake and chocolate milk, as well as socializing with other novice but enthusiastic audience members.
Nov. 20 through Dec. 24 at Chicago Children’s Theatre, 100 S. Racine Ave.; tickets $45.25 chicagochildrenstheatre.org
Larry Yando returned breathlessly for his 16th year in the annual tradition of the Goodman Theatre, in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, which remains unchanged for now under the direction of new artistic director Susan Booth. This year’s production also returns director Jessica Thebus and features Chicago’s leading cast including Kareem Bandealy, Thomas J. Cox, Susaan Jamshidi, Robert Schleifer (another longtime veteran of this show), Andrew White (also), and Bethany Thomas. actors are also included. . This year the ebullient Austin Tichenor plays Scrooge in select performances, and you’ll also find some shows with audio narration, ASL commentary, open captioning, Spanish subtitles, and made sensory friendly, all in the service of adding as many people as possible. It is possible for the 2 million people who have already seen this interpretation of Dickens. Satisfaction is personally guaranteed.
Nov. 18 – Dec. 31, Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St.; tickets $33-$159 www.goodmantheatre.org
Another long-standing Chicago seasonal tradition has its roots in Midwestern history, called Christmas tree cruises. John Reeger and Julie Shannon’s “The Christmas Schooner” first debuted at the Bailiwick Repertory Theater before the holidays, then docked at the Mercury Theater for years and now presents its emotionally charged Michigan tannenbaums at the Beverly. I have seen “Gulet” a dozen or more times and cherish the memory of each one. Watch and forward! Especially if you are an expat who misses home during the holidays. Fun fact: Cecily Strong of “Saturday Night Live” fame started her career playing an Irish girl on the pier on that show. And I remember this very well.
Dec. 15-23, Beverly Arts Center, 2407 W. 111th St.; tickets $40 thebeverlyartscenter.com
The biggest new entry in Chicago’s seasonal holiday spectacle, “Jim Henson’s Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas” is a new production of the hit book and TV Christmas special, featuring the kind of puppets that made the Henson company famous. This is, in essence, a pre-Broadway tryout with Broadway-caliber performers working in the newly restored Studebaker Theatre. This family-friendly show features music and lyrics by Paul Williams (“The Muppet Movie”), book by executive producer Timothy Allen McDonald, and direction and choreography by Christopher Gattelli of “Newsies” fame. I attended a rehearsal recently and it looked like a lot of fun. It was done in the Henson style; You don’t see the puppeteers.
through Dec. 31 at Studebaker Theatre, 410 S. Michigan Ave.; tickets start from $43 fineartsbuilding.com/studebaker
This beautiful and deeply emotional production from the theatre-film-music artists at Manual Cinema is a far cry from the standard “Christmas Carol” (the story is original) and was a huge hit at its emotional premiere at the Writers Theater in Glencoe. I saw the magnificent work, which brings together theatre, cinema, music and storytelling, first on Zoom during the pandemic period, and then on Zoom. In person in 2022. A beautiful show, ideal for the whole family. At this point I recommend the highest show on this list.
Nov. 16 to Dec. 24 at Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe; tickets $40-80 writerstheatre.org
There’s a great tradition of Chicago neighborhood shows aimed at holiday-skeptical adults that are designed to go well with a few seasonal drinks in the evening. The show at Theater Wit included Matthew Lombardo’s “Who’s on Vacation!” game; where Cindy Lou Who, now 40, holds court in her trailer home and retells the story of her sordid affair with the Grinch. Veronica Garza is the returning star of this one-woman attraction on Chicago’s North Side.
Nov. 24 – Dec. 30, Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave.; tickets $39-48 theaterwit.org
If you believe it, Jackie Taylor’s wildly popular production has been performing on Chicago’s North Side for 47 years. This annual Black panto is filled with songs, laughter and just enough superlatives to make its point. Characters do not change from year to year (unless they are corrupt…). Cinderella is from the housing projects, Stepmamma works for the USPS, and Fairygodmamma is Jamaican. But the show generally stays fresh and interactive with new and fun things every year.
Nov. 25 – Jan. 14, 2024, Black Ensemble Theatre, 4450 N. Clark St.; tickets $56.50-$66.50; blackensembletheater.org
Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.
OUR 2023 HOLIDAY GUIDES: