date published: December 15, 2008

Panorama’s prime picks for savoring the spirit
by Nicole McGovern, Joseph Normandin and Josh B. Wardrop

This month, you could sit home and watch Clarence the Angel get his wings for the millionth time, or you can get bundled up in your holiday finery and head into Boston to celebrate the season by enjoying a little Christmas culture of another sort. Whether your taste ranges from the sacred to the playful, from pipers piping to lords-a-leaping, it’s a safe bet that the Hub’s home to a theatrical or musical performance that’s just what you wanted this year. For complete dates, times and ticket information, refer to Holiday Events listings.

Curtains Up on Christmas
Remember those school Christmas pageants you had to suffer through (as either nervous performer or proud parent)? This year, take things up a few dozen notches as local theatres and theatrical troupes pack their stages with some of the boldest, brightest and most heartwarming shows you’ve ever seen.

Now in its 39th year, Black Nativity—produced by the National Center of Afro-American Artists at Tremont Temple through December 21—tells the story of the Nativity in scripture, verse, music and dance. Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes’ song-play based on the Gospel of St. Luke unites 160 singers, actors, dancers and musicians to deliver its universal message of peace, hope and joy.

Another cherished tale gets two distinctly different re-tellings this month in the form of Tchaikovsky’s beloved ballet The Nutcracker, presented at The Opera House through December 28 by Boston Ballet, and Urban Nutcracker, presented by Boston dance company BalletRox at John Hancock Hall through December 21. Perhaps the world’s most adored and renowned holiday ballet, The Nutcracker is a bonafide Christmas classic, and the world-class dancers of Boston Ballet serve up Clara, the Mouse King, the Sugar Plum Fairy and all the fanciful characters just as you remember them from childhood—complete with marvelous pirouettes and plies and a cast of hundreds of dancers, young and old. For those seeking a more modern take, Urban Nutcracker—with its energizing fusion of ballet, swing, hip-hop and a score enhanced by the inclusion of Duke Ellington beats, as well as a present-day Boston setting— is just the ticket to make everything old seem new again.

Not everyone treats Christmas as sentimentally as good old Saint Nick, though. For those who like a Christmas curmudgeon or two (or three), we’d recommend checking out Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical at the Wang Theatre (through December 28), the musical stage adaptation of everyone’s favorite Christmas tale about the grim and green Who-hater; New Repertory Theatre’s take on Charles Dickens’ classic holiday tale, A Christmas Carol, featuring that original seasonal sourpuss, Ebenezer Scrooge (through December 28); or David Sedaris’ darkly hilarious memoir of his time spent as a Macy’s Christmas elf in the season’s ode to anti-cheer, The Santaland Diaries, also playing at New Rep, beginning December 17.

Songs of the Season
A great philosopher once said, “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” (Actually, that was Will Ferrell’s Buddy the Elf from the movie Elf, but it’s still a lovely message.) So, don’t miss your chance to raise your own voice in song along with the following gifted musicians performing holiday classics in Boston this Christmas.

Celebrate with the village “quire” in the 38th annual production of The Christmas Revels. From December 18–22 and 27-30, Revels offers a theatrical celebration of the winter solstice with both sacred and “village” music and dance, including carols, anthems and holiday favorites by special guests The Mellstock Band and The Pinewood Morris Men.

One of Boston’s most cherished holiday traditions is attending a concert by the Boston Pops. Led by conductor Keith Lockhart, the light classical ensemble performs family-friendly pieces like “Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!” from the movie Home Alone and a world-premiere version of the modern Christmas classic The Polar Express, along with everybody’s favorite classic carols through December 28.

A pair of popular vocalists bring the holiday spirit to Boston when Harry Connick Jr. performs selections from his new Christmas album December 19 & 20 at the Colonial Theatre, and adult contemporary favorite Jim Brickman stops at the Cutler Majestic Theatre on December 27 & 28 for two shows of seasonal song.

It’s going to be a green Christmas for those who kick off the holidays Celtic style with the Christmas Celtic Sojourn at the Cutler through December 21. This popular New England holiday concert combines dancing, poetry, songs and stories of Celtic traditions, along with music presented by talents including the harmony group Navan and singers Sean Keane and Cara Dillon.

Hanukkah Hits the Hub
Christmas, schmistmas—what about the Festival of Lights? If your holiday season is one filled with menorahs, challah bread and yarmulkes rather than Christmas trees and Santa Claus, fret not—Boston has a few very enjoyable ways to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.

Eat up a storm (you’re too skinny!) at Harvard Square’s Everybody Loves Latkes Party on December 20. Enjoy holiday music and storytelling while you snack on samples of free latkes and check out cooking demonstrations provided by the restaurants of Cambridge’s Harvard Square, all part of the annual Sparklefest celebration. (For more information, visit Celebrate the first night of Hanukkah on December 21 at Emmanuel Church (15 Newbury St., 617-536-3355) with an interfaith Hanukkah Celebration that includes singing and menorah-lighting. Or just make mom happy by meeting a nice Jewish boy (or girl) this year at the Matzo Ball, taking place December 24 at popular nightclub The Estate (1 Boylston Place, 617-351-7000). The event aimed at bringing together Jewish singles ages 21–49 offers revelers the chance to network, make friends or even find that special someone.

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