Review: Unwrap free holiday shows

Empty theaters and dark stages this holiday season to be sure, but we also are in for some online and streaming holiday delights.

Let’s start with Chicago’s prestigious Goodman Theatre. This year, the traditional, beloved “A Christmas Carol” will be presented as an old-time radio show. Director Jessica Thebus promises a veteran cast and new voices; thankfully, Chicago’s superb Larry Yando returns for his 13th year as Scrooge. The radio show format provides opportunities for new text and new storytelling in Tom Creamer’s adaptation, according to Thebus. And because this is definitely “theater of the mind,” Richard Woodbury’s sound design is crucial – if you can’t see it, what do you need to hear? Here’s the best part: as a gift to the community, “A Christmas Carol” streams free through Dec. 31 on the Goodman website (goodmantheatre.org) and is broadcast on radio station WBEZ 91.5 on Christmas Eve (3 p.m.) and Christmas Day (11 a.m.).

While “Peter Pan – A Musical Adventure” is not traditionally a holiday show, Chicago Shakespeare Theater is offering a free, streaming, 80-minute version of its hit 2018 production. Directed and choreographed by Amber Mak, this is a newly remastered, multiple-camera film captured before a live audience. Fly away to Neverland from Dec. 19 through Jan. 1 at shawurl.com/3ecy.

Milwaukee Repertory Theater offers a free streaming version of Artistic Director Mark Clements’ classic production of “A Christmas Carol” with a never-before-seen recording of the 2016 production at the stunning Pabst Theater. And I’m very excited about “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol.” Despite hopes, the Milwaukee Rep had to cancel all planned live performances of this solo production, told from Scrooge’s late partner’s perspective. Starring Lee E. Ernst, and also directed by Mark Clements, the tale promises redemption and renewal. At $20 per household to view, the proceeds will compensate and employ the artists. Both productions are streaming through Dec. 24 at tinyurl.com/yyx3gzqo.

If you’re a fan of the always entertaining Vicki Quade’s “Late Nite Catechism,” her “Christmas Bingo: It’s a Ho-Ho-Holy Night,” taped at Chicago’s Royal George Theatre, goes online through Dec. 27. Tickets cost $20 and a portion of the proceeds goes to the retirement fund for the Benedictine Sisters of Chicago. Visit tinyurl.com/y477kosu.

And a truly ingenious production available through December is even closer to home. Newly founded in July 2020, Antioch’s Mosaic Players will offer “A Virtual Advent Calendar” – that most seasonal countdown. Each day, there are stories, readings, songs and traditions. A traveling ensemble under the artistic direction of Rebecca Zellar promotes “taking the theater to people instead of waiting for them to come to an enclosed theater space” with a focus on diversity, social justice and human rights. Each day through Dec. 24, a new video will be posted and available for a day, replaced by a new virtual treat the next day. The calendar is available on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, and at mosaicplayers.org. All of the videos will be available between Dec. 25 and 31.

So holiday seekers, these are just a few of the family-appropriate productions that can make your days merry and bright.

• Regina Belt-Daniels loves the theater and hopes soon to be reviewing live shows with live audiences again. A theater veteran since the first grade, she currently serves on several theater boards and has directed and acted in shows throughout Illinois, Ohio and New York.

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