December is as packed with family-friendly theatrical productions as Santa’s sleigh is with presents. The most popular show this time of year is The Nutcracker and Southern California certainly is chock-full of opportunities to see it – some with an extra twist of fun. But there are a number of other festive shows that are also worth a look.
Six Unique Nutcrackers
Debbie Allen once again will serve up The Hot Chocolate Nutcracker at 8 p.m. Dec. 12, 1 and 7 p.m. Dec. 13 and 2 p.m. Dec. 14 at UCLA’s Royce Hall. In this version, a young girl named Kara experiences a magical dream after drinking hot chocolate from a nutcracker. Three wise-cracking mice – Raven Symone (“The Cosby Show”), Carlo Imperato (Fame) and Debbie Allen – narrate the story, which includes visits to Candy Cane Land, Bollywood, Jazzland and the Land of Kimono Dolls. The production also features a multicultural selection of music, ranging from Mariah Carey to Arturo Sandoval, James Ingram and Shiamak Davar. Tickets: $45-$95; www.thehotchocolatenutcracker.com.
At the City Ballet of Los Angeles, The Nutcracker Swings. The company has set its production, taking place at 8 p.m. Dec. 19-20 at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre (743 S. Lucerne Blvd., L.A.) in 1942 Los Angeles. “Placing Nutcracker in 1940s Los Angeles gives all Angelenos a stake in the ballet on a cultural level, because our Maria is from the Los Angeles Orphanage,” says City Ballet’s founder and artistic director Robyn Gardenhire. “She can be of any race, so any little girl in the audience can imagine herself being the princess in the ballet one day.” Gardenhire also says the company has given the ballet “an American twist” by mixing scores from Duke Ellington and Tchaikovsky. Tickets: $20-$60; www.cityballetofla.org.
The Los Angeles Ballet also has reimagined The Nutcracker in a Los Angeles setting. However, this production is set in Los Angeles circa 1910, slightly closer to the year that Tchaikovsky debuted the ballet. It will perform its version of The Nutcracker at four different locations around Southern California – 7:30 p.m. Dec. 6 and 2 p.m. Dec. 7 at the Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale.; 1 and 5 p.m. Dec. 13-14 at the Dolby Theatre, 6801 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; 1 and 5 p.m. Dec. 20-21 at UCLA’s Royce Hall, 340 Royce Dr., L.A.; and 1 and 5 p.m. Dec. 27 and 2 p.m. Dec. 28 at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach. Tickets: $35.50-$103.50; www.losangelesballet.org.
While The Nutcracker is one of the most family-friendly ballets, the Pacific Symphony and the Festival Ballet Theatre have created an even more child-friendly version. Their Nutcracker For Kids, performed at 10 and 11:30 a.m. Dec. 13 at Segerstrom Concert Hall (615 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa), is a sweet 45-minute production geared especially for little ones. Adding to the kid-attuned atmosphere is a musical carnival before the first show and after the second show, plus a holiday sing-along that concludes both performances. Tickets: $30-$50; www.pacificsymphony.org.
The Moscow Ballet returns to Los Angeles with its Great Russian Nutcracker at noon, 4 and 8 p.m. Dec. 21 at the Wiltern Theater (3790 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.). The company honors the ballet’s Russian heritage, and includes stunning elements such as a five-story Christmas tree, 10-foot puppets and a Dove of Peace dance performed by two dancers. And for the first time, local dancers will be part of the production. In October, the company’s Audition Director, Mariia Skoruk, was in L.A. to audition dancers from the Beverly Hills Ballerina and Dance Academy. She anticipates having the local youth dancers fill 40 different parts, from little ones playing snowflakes to older ones dancing the parts of angels and butterflies. Tickets: $27.50-$120; www.nutcracker.com.
Perhaps the most visually spectacular local production of The Nutcracker takes place at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13 and 20 and 2 p.m. Dec. 14 and 21 at the Long Beach Terrace Theater (300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach). The Long Beach Ballet has a cast that includes 200 people and a live horse, and the production boasts a flying sleigh, on-stage pyrotechnics and a full symphony orchestra. The Ballet’s artistic director, David Wilcox, says his production has “everything I can think of to make it thrilling,” and adds that this show is not just for people who like ballet. “You can hate ballet and you’ll still like this production,” he says. Tickets: $30-$100; www.ticketmaster.com.
Six Nutcracker-Free Productions
If you are in the mood for a little Scrooge, there are two prime productions of A Christmas Carol. South Coast Rep stages its 35th production of the Charles Dickens masterpiece Nov. 28-Dec. 4 on the Segerstrom Stage (655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa), and for the 35th year, Hal Landon Jr. will play the role of Ebenezer Scrooge. Tickets: $26-$68; www.scr.org. A Noise Within stages its own version of the play, adapted by co-artistic director Geoff Elliott, who also plays Scrooge, Fri.-Sun. and Tues. Dec. 5-23 (3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena). It is only the company’s third year doing A Christmas Carol, but the show has become one of its more popular productions. Tickets: $48-$70; www.anoisewithin.org.
If Scrooge is the most timeless Christmas villain, the Grinch runs a close second. That mean, green creature can be found in Costa Mesa this month when How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical comes to the Segerstrom Center stage (600 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa) at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 10 and 12, 1 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 11, 11 a.m. and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13 and 11 a.m. and 2 and 6:30 p.m. Dec. 14. The show, which has been a hit with critics and audiences, closely follows the original tale by Dr. Seuss and includes the iconic songs “You’re A Mean One Mr. Grinch” and “Welcome Christmas” from the TV version, as well as original numbers. Tickets: $29-$99; www.scfta.org.
Another timeless tale, Beauty and the Beast, will pay a visit to the Kavli Theater (Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd.) at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 4-7 and 2 p.m. Dec. 6-7. The musical version, based on the successful Disney movie, has delighted more than 20 million theatergoers around the globe over the past decade. Children continue to be charmed by this tale of Belle and the Beast. Tickets: $40-$85; www.ticketmaster.com.
The Lythgoe Family Productions put a new spin on a classic fairy tale with their comical Panto production of Sleeping Beauty and Her Winter Knight Dec. 10-Jan. 4 (no shows Mon. except Dec. 29) at the Pasadena Playhouse (39 S. E. Molina Ave.). The production boasts So You Think You Can Dance dancers, pop songs from Jessie J’s “Domino” to John Legend’s “All Of Me,” plus fun new characters and jokes. Lucy Lawless, Tamyra Gray and Disney actress/singer Olivia Holt star in this lighthearted musical comedy. Tickets: $34-$125 adults, $24-$64 children; www.pasadenaplayhouse.org.
Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine reinvented Grimm fairytale characters when they created the musical Into The Woods. A film version hits theaters this month, and a live production will come to the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts (9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills) at 8 p.m. Tues.-Fri., 3 and 8 p.m. Sat. and 2 and 7 p.m. Sun. Dec. 2-21. This critically heralded production by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival includes Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and other favorite children’s characters, but isn’t geared for little ones. It is recommended for mature elementary-age children. Tickets: $39-$110; www.thewallis.org.
Another show that has transformed a familiar childhood story is Wicked, coming Dec. 10-March 15 to the Pantages Theater (6233 Hollywood Blvd. L.A.) The award-winning musical ranks among the most popular shows in Broadway history – and it has set records in L.A. as well. Wicked tells the tale of two girls who grow up to be witches – one good and one wicked – and is recommended for ages 8 and older. Tickets: $43.75-$210.95; www.ticketmaster.com.
Michael Berick is an L.A. dad and Calendar Editor of L.A. Parent.